11 Things an executor should know about probate
Updated: Feb 17
When someone passes away, their estate is subject to probate — a legal process that oversees the distribution of assets and payment of debts. The executor of the deceased's will is responsible for ensuring probate proceedings are carried out properly, but this can be an intimidating and complex task. As such, executors need to have a thorough understanding of the process. This guide will provide an overview of 11 things an executor should know about probate.
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1: Secure the deceased person's assets
Secure the deceased person's assets Before the start of probate proceedings, the executor should secure any assets owned by the deceased. This includes physical property such as vehicles, jewelry, and artwork; financial accounts like checking and savings; stocks and bonds; life insurance policies; retirement fund distributions; business interests; and real estate holdings. By doing this, the executor can ensure that valuable items are preserved, and assets are not misused.
2: Gather important documents
Gather important documents The executor should gather essential documents related to the deceased's estate, such as their will, deeds, insurance policies, bank statements, investment accounts, tax returns, trust agreements, vehicle registration papers, and other vital documents. Having these documents in order will make the probate process straightforward.
3: Identify creditors and debt holders
Identify creditors and debt holders when probating an estate. it's essential to identify any creditors or debt holders that the deceased may have had. These include mortgage lenders, credit cards, loans, overdue rent payments, and medical bills. The executor should communicate with these entities to ensure that all debts are paid off before assets are distributed to heirs and beneficiaries.
4: Notify beneficiaries
The executor should also notify any named beneficiaries of the will to ensure they know their rights regarding the deceased's estate. This could involve sending letters, emails, or making phone calls — whatever is most appropriate for each beneficiary.
5: Get a copy of the will
Get a copy of the will and file it with the court The executor should obtain a copy of the will and file it with the local probate court. This is necessary to begin the probate process. As executor, you are responsible for ensuring that the court receives a copy of the will and all related documents promptly. Most times, even if probate isn't required, the will must still be filed with the court.
6: Handle taxes
Handle taxes another essential role of the executor is to ensure that all applicable taxes are paid. This includes filing any returns for the deceased at the beginning of the new year, determining whether estate taxes are owed, and making all payments on time. In some circumstances, if the estate is large enough, federal and state estate taxes may have to be paid.
7: Distribute assets
Once all of the paperwork is sorted out, and debts are paid, it's time for the executor to distribute the deceased's assets in accordance with their wishes. The executor must be sure that all named beneficiaries receive what they were promised in a timely manner and that all assets are distributed as the deceased specified in the will.
8: Resolve disputes
Unfortunately, probate proceedings can become complicated when beneficiaries disagree over the terms of the will. If this happens, it's up to the executor to do their best to resolve any disputes without having to bring the matter before a court. This may require some creative problem-solving skills and lots of patience. If the executor can not resolve the issues then it is best to get a probate attorney involved.
9: Sort out digital assets
In today's digital world, the executor must also deal with the deceased's digital assets. This could include social media accounts, online storage services, cryptocurrency wallets, and other digital property. The executor should ensure that any digital content belonging to the deceased is secured and managed in a way that honors their wishes.
10: Seek legal advice
When in doubt, the executor should seek legal counsel to help them navigate any tricky situations. A probate lawyer can provide invaluable guidance and support throughout the process. Don't be afraid to reach out when needed — it's better to be safe than sorry.
Although using a lawyer to file probate in North Carolina is not required, it is highly suggested that you do so. However, if you are determined to do it on your own we have written an article called "How to file probate in North Carolina without a lawyer" to help you.
11: Take care of yourself
Finally, the executor needs to take care of themselves during what can be a long and stressful process. Remember to carve out time for self-care, and make sure to enlist help from family or friends if you feel overwhelmed. Probing an estate is not easy, especially while dealing with loss, but there are plenty of resources available to make the process smoother.
[You may also want to read "How to create a probate inventory list."]
FAQs regarding the role of an executor
As an executor, it isn't uncommon to have questions. Here are some of the most common FAQs:
Q1: How long does the executor have to settle an estate?
A1: The time required to settle an estate can vary depending on the case's complexity. Most estates are settled within a year, but it could take longer.
Q2: Can an executor be held liable for mistakes?
A2: An executor can be held liable for mistakes made during the probate process. That's why it's so important to make sure you understand your role and responsibilities before beginning the probate process. If you are unsure about anything, it's always best to seek legal advice.
Q3: Does an executor get paid?
A3: In most cases, the executor is entitled to receive compensation for their services. The amount of compensation is determined by various factors, such as the size and complexity of the estate, the amount of work involved, and how long it takes to settle the estate.
Q4: Can an executor be removed?
A4: Yes, in some cases, an executor can be removed if they do not perform their duties satisfactorily.
The court will ultimately decide whether or not to remove the executor based on the evidence presented.
These are just a few frequently asked questions about the role and responsibilities of an executor. With the proper guidance and support, you can be sure to carry out your duties with confidence.
Executors play a vital role in the probate process, but it's not to be taken lightly. Being an executor requires a great deal of dedication and attention to detail — and unfortunately, it can be time-consuming and stressful. That's why executors need to have a support system to help them navigate the process.
North Carolina Probate Solutions
Here at North Carolina Probate Solutions, we offer free consultations for executors to help answer any questions or concerns you may have. We also coordinate an umbrella of services to ensure that the probate process is completed quickly and efficiently.
If you have any questions or need additional advice and guidance, please feel free to contact Denise. She'll be more than happy to help.
Denise Harper Davis
Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist
* NOTE: North Carolina Probate Solutions and the author of this article is not a licensed attorney or CPA. This post should not be considered legal or tax advice. Always consult an estate attorney or tax professional when needing legal answers and legal advice.
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