Probate is expensive, time consuming and part of the public record. Learn more here, including how to avoid it.
Overview of the Duties of a Probate Executor
A probate executor is an individual who has been appointed to oversee a probate estate. Probate is the legal process used to validate a person's Last Will and Testament and ensure their assets are distributed according to probate laws.
The probate executor is usually appointed through the decedent's Will. However, if the person dies intestate (without a Will), a probate judge will appoint someone to administer the estate. Usually this is a spouse or direct lineage relative. If no relatives exist or none desire the position, an outsider will be appointed.
Estate administrators have multiple responsibilities. These include handling the decedent's financial affairs; inventory and distribution of assets; working with estate planning attorney to ensure proper documents are filed; providing evidence to the court the estate has been settled; and in some instances making funeral arrangements.Related Reading: Inheritance loans, real estate investing, executors, avoiding probate and alternatives.
When decedents pre-arrange their funeral, the probate executor's duties are usually limited to finalizing plans with the funeral director. In some cases, the executor might be responsible for purchasing burial clothing and constructing a public obituary notice. Estate administrators might also be called upon to contact friends and relatives of the decedent to inform them of the funeral services.
The probate executor will need to provide a copy of any life insurance policies owned by the decedent. In most cases, named life insurance beneficiaries will assign their rights to the funeral home to cover burial expenses.
If the policy is insufficient at covering the full burial cost, the estate will be responsible for the balance. If the decedent does not have a life insurance policy, either their estate or family will be required to pay. This can cause a huge financial burden for most people. Most states have a "State Burial Fund" for decedent's family who cannot otherwise afford a proper burial.
In most instances, the probate executor is responsible for contacting the Social Security Administration to notify them of the decedent's death. Additionally, other government entities such as Medicare and Medicaid should be notified as well. Occasionally, the funeral director will contact these organizations.
If the decedent receives a Social Security or Disability payment after their death, the check must be returned to the appropriate agency. When payments are directly deposited into the decedent's checking account, the probate executor will need to issue a refund.
Probate executors are responsible for submitting a Notice to Creditors; informing each creditor of the decedent's death. The estate is responsible for paying all outstanding debts prior to distribution.
If the estate does not have enough funds to repay creditors, the probate executor will need to engage in negotiations to reduce outstanding balances. Oftentimes, this requires the services of a qualified probate lawyer.
The probate executor is also responsible for cancelling homeowners or rental insurance and automobile insurance policies upon settlement of probate. Insurance should remain in place and premiums paid until distribution of assets occurs.
The probate executor is responsible for cancelling automobile, homeowners or rental insurance policies upon settlement of probate. Insurance policies should remain in place and be paid by the estate until distribution has taken place.
If the decedent executed a Will, the executor must distribute assets according to the directives outlined in the document. In the event no Will exists or in cases where heirs contest the Will, the executor will follow directives outlined by the probate judge.
Last, but not least, the probate executor is responsible for filing a final tax return. This must occur within nine months from the date of the decedent's death.