Death, while inevitable, is a topic that most people avoid. Even those who have developed a plan for their estate may have assets or liabilities that will still require attention after they pass away. Common examples include: paying taxes, settling debts, gathering the assets and determining proper distribution.
Often times, these responsibilities are left to a family member, designated either by the deceased or by the courts.This person is called the executor of the estate. While the executor may recognize the honor of making sure their loved one‘s affairs are properly handled, they are understandably distracted by other emotions. Thankfully, a trained Washington probate attorney knows exactly what to do to assist an executor with these responsibilities and to comply with state probate laws.1
Steps in Administering the Estate
The first thing that needs to be done is to locate and understand the estate plan. Estate plans can be very simple or extremely complex. The estate plan often times involves a last will and testament, which may trigger legal rights of parties such as a spouse or children who were left out inadvertently. There may also be property in the will that is no longer owned by the estate or which are encumbered by debt. These issues are best understood ahead of time, and an effective probate attorney will be able to quickly point them out. Once the will is located and understood, it needs to be timely filed with the probate court to be effective.
Next, assets will need to be gathered and invoiced and a new account created in the name of the estate rather than the deceased. The executor has duties to the estate to properly handle and invoice all assets. These duties can subject the executor to liability2 if they are not properly executed. A lawyer can be of assistance to ensure that both the executor and the estate are properly protected.
Once the assets are gathered, the executor will then need to settle all taxes and debts of the estate prior to distributing any assets. Providing proper notice to the debtors is an important step to determine what needs to be paid. There are also rules on which debts have priority over others and sometimes assets need to be sold in order to pay these debts. A Washington probate attorney can help executors effectively tackle these challenges and work to preserve as many of the estate assets as possible.
Finally, after all of the above is complete, the assets can be distributed. At this point, after the costs, debts, and taxes are cared for, the estate is different from at the time of death. This difference may mean that certain beneficiaries are prioritized over others who may ultimately receive nothing. For this reason, having an accounting of the actions of the executor is important to answer any questions by the court or family. Administering an estate can be complicated but executors can trust that the estate was managed properly and avoid any unnecessary drama or liability with the help of a knowledgeable lawyer.