Have you been named the executor of someone’s will and/or estate? It may seem like an easy task, but it isn’t. An executor is a person who finishes up the details of someone’s life when they pass on.
An executor is more than just a ceremonial role. If you’ve been named as the executor of someone’s will in Illinois, you’ll actually have a job to do, and will likely be paid for the work. The courts give an executor a considerable amount of responsibility and legal authority over the estate due to the amount of work involved.
Much of the executor’s duties will depend on the size of the deceased’s estate. Hopefully, the deceased left a will and did not die intestate, or without a will. In that case, the court will have to name someone to carry out the role. That person may or may not be you.
Should you be the person chosen to be an executor, here are some of the tasks you’ll be held responsible for handling.
Begin The Probate Process
Ideally, you’ll have an original copy of the decedent’s will. If not, you’ll have to locate one.
The will must be filed in the county of the deceased’s residence and filed with the local court.
Within 30 days of the date of death, the executor must file a petition with the court to open the deceased’s probate. The probate court will then formally name the executor. Once named, he or she will be given the necessary documentation to work with governmental agencies, financial institutions, and other entities to organize the estate’s assets for eventual distribution to creditors and any beneficiaries. If the executor doesn’t file the petition timely, the court may rule him or her as “unfit.”
Finding The Worth Of The Estate
One of the biggest jobs of the executor is determining not only the value of the estate but also the deceased’s total amount of debt.
All assets that will go through the estate must be found, categorized, inventoried, and then establish a value. Each asset must also have a “date of death value,” that is, what it’s worth at the time of death. Since not all assets go through probate, an inventory is needed to determine the ones that will.
Although it may be done already, the executor is still required to notify heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased’s date of death. Creditors known to the estate must also be notified at this time. To notify creditors that the executor is unaware of, he or she must arrange for a claims publication in a local newspaper.
Creditors have a short amount of time to file a claim against the estate. As an executor, you’ll be required to approve or deny those claims, which are paid from the assets of the estate.
Defend Against Will Challenges
Sometimes, an heir and/or beneficiary may decide to challenge the will for whatever reason. They may believe they were fraudulently omitted, that the will was changed by influence, or that the executor is handling the estate incorrectly.
Should someone contest the will, the probate process stops in order to go through litigation, which can be expensive. Challenges can extend the length of probate by months, and sometimes years, depending on the circumstances.
As an executor, you’ll have the defend the estate and the will and disprove the allegations before the estate can proceed. The outcome of the litigation determines the next step in probate. If the will is determined to be invalid, then probate will continue under Illinois intestate laws, as if the decedent had no will.
During the process, you’ll also be managing, keeping inventory of, and protect all of the estate’s assets until they are disbursed or transferred to the beneficiary.
If there is not enough cash assets in the estate to pay the taxes and any creditors, then you’ll be required to sell assets to pay these expenses. As the executor, you’ll be responsible for deciding which assets to sell, overseeing the sale of the assets, and distributing the proceeds to pay the expenses of the estate.
Final Tax Returns
Part of “tying up” the deceased’s affairs is to complete their final tax returns. This will determine any taxes owed, including estate taxes, as well as federal and state gift taxes. Once prepared and submitted, any remaining taxes must be paid before the probate can conclude.
Transferring To Heirs And/Or Beneficiaries
At the conclusion of probate, you, the executor, will begin the process of transferring assets laid out in the will to their intended recipients. This could be the deceased’s heirs or any other beneficiaries named in the will.
As the executor, you (along with your estate attorney) prepare the required legal documents to transfer the property into the hands of the receiving beneficiaries.
Following the transfers, probate for the deceased is closed.
James C. Provenza, Chicago Estate Planning Attorney
Choosing the right executor is more than just naming someone. By naming someone you know who is capable of taking care of your affairs when you pass on, you’ll make it easier for your family and friends who are grieving. Name the person you can trust to carry out your wishes and get the job done the way you intended.
Work with an estate planning attorney who understands estate planning law and can help you design an estate plan that’s right for you and your family. James C. Provenza is an Illinois estate planning attorney with more than 25 years of estate planning experience. Call our firm today at (847) 729-3939, or use our online contact form.