The death of someone close to you can cause a range of strong emotions, including anger, denial, confusion and grief. With all those emotions churning around, the last thing you are probably thinking about are the legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. If the decedent appointed you to be the Executor of the estate in his/her Last Will and Testament, however, it means they are counting on you to handle the administration of their estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, you may also find yourself volunteering to be the Personal Representative of the estate. Retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the probate of the estate is the best way to ensure that the probate process runs smoothly and without errors. To get you started, however, the estate planning attorneys at Parman & Easterday have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Prairie Village, Kansas area.
Probate Basics for the Beginner
Almost everyone leaves behind an estate when they die. The estate may be modest or valuable and may consist of a wide range of different types of assets. Regardless of the size or value of an estate, the assets that make up the estate must be accounted for and eventually transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. It is for these reasons that most estates are required to go through the legal process known as “probate.” Probate also offers creditors of the estate the opportunity to file claims against the estate and ensures that any tax obligations owed by the estate are paid. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative(PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. For the most part, the duties and responsibilities of an Executor and a PR are the same. For convenience sake, the generic term “Personal Representative (PR)” is frequently used to refer to either an Executor appointed in a Will or a PR who has volunteered for the position.
For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” within its Estate Planning FAQs that you may wish to read. In addition, the Kansas Bar Association also has a section entitled “What Is Probate?” that offers some helpful information.
Probate usually occurs in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. For example, if the decedent was a resident of Prairie Village, Kansas, at the time of death, the probate of the estate will be initiated in Johnson County in the 10th Judicial District of Kansas. Most PRs choose to retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist during the probate process because it can be time consuming and confusing for a first-time PR. If, however, you decide to proceed pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney, you will be expected to understand the Johnson County local rules as well as the applicable laws. The District Court Legal Help Center offers some very general assistance to pro se litigants. There is also a Forms section on the court’s website that you may find helpful.
Choosing an Attorney
Although you may not be required to retain the services of an attorney to assist you during the probate process, there are several reasons why most people choose to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to assist them nonetheless. Not only can an attorney guide you through the probate process, allowing you to focus on grieving, but having an attorney on your side also dramatically decreases the possibility of making a costly mistake. A good place to start is with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. In addition, the Kansas Bar Association’s KanRefer program can help you find the right lawyer for your legal needs.
Personal Representative Resources
To get the probate process started, you will need to file the appropriate petition along with the original signed copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament and a certified copy of the death certificate with the Johnson County District Court. You may obtain certified death certificates from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. You will also likely need to conduct a thorough search to make sure you have identified all real property owned by the decedent. A good place to start is the website for the Johnson County Office of the Appraiser. As the PR you will also be responsible for notifying all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors may be notified individually; however, for unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper which may be accomplished by navigating to The Legal Record.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
Because every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes, you will need to be familiar with how to calculate the tax and how to prepare the tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If it turn out that the estate does owe federal gift and estate taxes, any tax obligation due must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. Fortunately, Kansas is not one of the handful of states that also imposes a state estate tax. Nevertheless, you should check to ensure that you are complying with any tax filing requirements which can be done on the Kansas Department of Revenue website.
If you have questions or concerns regarding the probate of an estate in Prairie Village, Kansas, contact the experienced probate attorneys at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 or 913-385-9400 to schedule your appointment today.