Probate happens after a death. An executor, chosen by the deceased, is usually in charge of the probate process – but not always. If there is no executor named or if the named person doesn’t want the job, a personal representative or estate administrator can take on the task of overseeing probate.
Regardless of who is in charge, there are lots of different steps that must be taken during probate. Executors, estate administrators or personal representatives, beneficiaries or heirs, and loved ones of th deceased all need to know what is supposed to happen and need to make sure things get done right. This probate checklist will help to ensure that all of the essential steps of probate are taken so the wishes of the deceased are respected, so property is cared for, and so beneficiaries and heirs can get their inheritance.
While not every estate is going to require every step here, this basic checklist can guide you through what likely must be done during probate:
- Obtain death certificates from the funeral director. The death certificates need to be certified.
- Find a probate attorney. Executors need a lawyer to represent the estate because executors have so many legal responsibilities. Heirs may want an attorney too in order to help them protect their inheritance!
- Obtain all estate planning documents. You’ll want to find wills, trust documents, codicils, and other instructions the deceased left behind.
- Find ownership documents. Titles, statements from financial accounts, deeds, and other documentation showing ownership of assets are going to be important.
- Obtain essential legal documents. Prenups, birth certificates, leases, contracts, partnership agreements, and a wide variety of other legal documents can become important during probate.
- Prepare a summary of estate assets. You need a comprehensive list of the assets left by the deceased, including estimated or approximate values of those assets. Look for safe deposit boxes and inventory them, and obtain keys if necessary to access estate property.
- Collect estate assets. If there are insurance policies paid out to the estate, outstanding debts owed to the estate, employment benefits owed, or any other money and property owed to the estate, the executor should try to collect it.
- Make a list of debts and financial obligations. You should have a detailed summary of financial liabilities and obligations the deceased has taken on.
- File for probate with the court. You need to file for probate in the appropriate county or counties where the deceased person owned property.
- Provide appropriate notifications. Family members, beneficiaries, potential heirs, and creditors all have to be notified of probate proceedings. If people or companies cannot be found, publishing notifications in newspapers may be necessary.
- Take care of tax filings. A tax ID number may need to be obtained from the IRS for the estate. Taxes may have to be paid, depending upon the value of estate assets and the type of assets transferring.
- Manage estate assets. Executors are in charge of asset management during probate. This means doing things like paying the mortgage and other bills for property the deceased owns. You may also need to obtain or maintain insurance coverage for valuable assets.
- Obtain valuations. In some cases, having estate assets appraised is necessary. This could become important, for example, if the estate is large enough for estate taxes to be assessed.
- Keep an accounting. You need to keep detailed records of how money is being spent and of any transactions made on behalf of the estate.
- Attend all probate court proceedings. Going to court may be necessary to prove a will is valid and to address other issues related to the estate. Court fees have to be paid for the initial probate filing and for certain other court proceedings.
- Distribute assets: Assets should be distributed to new owners at the close of probate proceedings. A formal plan should be made for asset distribution. Deeds, titles and other ownership documentation must be changed.
These are the key steps which take place during the probate process. Parman & Easterday can help with all of these steps, and more. Give us a call today at 405-843-6100 or contact us online to find out how we can help.