If you are reading this article, you have likely been faced with the death of a loved one. If that is the case, please let me express my condolences for your family’s loss.
You probably have many questions about the legal aspects of estate administration. Here are just a few of the typical client questions:
• What is Probate?
• Is Probate Required for Us?
• How Do We Distribute Assets?
• What Bills Do We Pay?
• What About the Home?
• Do We Pay the Mortgage?
There are likely many more questions running through your mind. While we cannot answer all of them in this article, we have compiled a list of the first five steps every family should make when faced with an estate administration.
1. Locate the Original Will and/or Trust
During this time, you will need to locate the original will and/or trust. These documents will be needed in order to complete the estate administration. We always recommend that you review the documents together as a family, including the executor and trustee information, and be prepared to ask questions when you meet with the attorney.
2. Meet with the Estate Attorney
This sounds easy, but sometimes it is not. It is always a good idea to meet with the attorney who prepared the will and trust to help the family administer the estate. However, sometimes the attorney is no longer alive or has retired. This can make this process difficult.
If you are in this situation, one of the family members may have a relationship with an attorney and this could be a good place to start. We always recommend that you seek out an attorney who has a host of free information on their website — including articles and books for download — which discuss the estate administration process.
3. Be Prepared to Gather Documents Needed by the Attorney
Once you meet with the attorney, be prepared to answer all his or her questions. This includes asset information, beneficiary information, family information, and outstanding debts.
The attorney will need this information to advise you on the proper estate administration process. In addition, make sure you bring the will and trust with you, as the attorney will need to review these documents during the family meeting. Your attorney should ask you to complete a questionnaire that will also guide you, step-by-step, through the estate administration process — including alerting you to the additional documents the attorney will need to properly administer the estate.
4. Executor, Trustee, and Beneficiaries Must Understand Their Role
Sometimes, one of the hardest aspects to understand in this process is everyone’s role in the estate administration. Every family member may want to have a say in how this process will move forward. However, this was already laid out by your loved one. Therefore, everyone must understand that the Executor/Trustee is in charge.
The Executor/Trustee will be the primary communicator with the estate attorney. He or she will decide which bills are to be paid, when real estate will be sold, and finally, when assets will be distributed.
5. Follow the Attorney’s Direction and Advice
The estate administration process will seem to be moving very slowly, but family members need to follow the estate attorney’s direction. If there is a probate administration involved, this process could last 11 months or longer. The estate attorney will provide advice and direction regarding which bills should be paid, when assets will be distributed, how to sell personal property, and how to sell real estate, if necessary.
Remember — the Executor/Trustee is a fiduciary. If they do anything wrong, they could be held personally liable to the estate. That is why the process may take some time and why it is important that you follow their advice.
As you can see, estate administration can be a complex process. Before making any important legal decisions as a family, it is best to speak with a competent and knowledgeable estate attorney.
The attorneys at Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt, LPA are here to help you. Please contact our office at (513) 241-0400 or use our contact form to schedule a time to discuss this topic with one of our attorneys. The Estate Planning team at Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt, LPA looks forward to speaking with you!