My most recent posts have focused on the importance of probate avoidance and what approaches might best accomplish this important estate planning goal. Of course, a lot of people don’t get to this step of planning, and some people establish a probate avoidance plan and the plan falls out of sync or something unexpected arises and there is still a probate. What happens then? The big thing is not to panic. If you have been named as the executor under a Will, one of the first things that you should do after the death of the person for whom you are serving is to contact a law firm which regularly practices in the probate area. Contacting an attorney can help to make the rest of the probate process easier for you so you can fulfill the wishes of the deceased and make sure you protect your own legal interests in the process.
Clarity Legal Group® provides consultation and representation for individuals who have been named executor of an estate. We will help you from the time you call us until the probate process has been completed. You should give us a call as soon as you can to find out more about the ways we can help executors throughout probate. You can also read on to find out some key reasons why executors should hire probate lawyers.
Why Executors Should Hire a Probate Lawyer
If you have been named as the executor of an estate in someone’s will, you may be confused about what this even means and what your obligations will be going forward. An attorney who is has experience with probate can guide you through the entire process of settling the affairs of the estate, helping with the things that happen at the court house as well as outside — such as with creditors or financial institutions. Getting some experienced advice will be one of the best things you can do.
In North Carolina, there is a long tradition of people without the help of lawyers going to the courthouse and seeking the advice of an Assistant Clerk of Court as to what to do in the probate. Sometimes this works. My caution to you is that providing this advice is not their job, they can only do this when they are not busy with other things, their advice is coming from the perspective of the court (which is helpful, but not complete), and they do not help and have no experience with all of the things relating to the probate which happen outside of the court process.
The first thing to know is that just because a Will has named you as executor, you do not actually have the job yet. You’ll have to go to the court and be officially appointed. This means if you don’t want to fulfill the role of executor, you don’t have to agree to do it. But, if you do want to honor the wishes of the deceased and be the executor of the estate, you will have to get the process started and get appointed by filing the right paperwork with the court. This is one of the first things an attorney will help you to do.
Even before that, an experienced probate lawyer at Clarity Legal Group® will walk you through the people you need to notify of the death and things you need to do to protect that property of the decreased. We can then help you to determine what forms you need to file and what court will preside over the probate proceedings. The good news is that in North Carolina, you do not have to go to the court house. All of the paperwork will be prepared in our office and we will take the properly prepared and executed paperwork to the court and return with a document known as Letters Testamentary, which is the official appointment of you as Executor of the estate.
After that, there are a lot of additional steps you have to take to move the probate process forward. You’re going to have to make sure the right people are notified that probate proceedings are taking place. You’ll also have to identify the assets of the estate and then take over the management of real estate, financial accounts, cars and other property of the deceased. This is a bigger job than it may sound like, and is at the heart of all of the responsibilities of the Executor which take place outside of the courthouse. The legal team at Clarity Legal Group® will secure the necessary tax documentation and help you identify the other documents you will need to take to the bank to secure control of bank accounts, for example, as part of the estate. For some clients, we visit the bank with the Executor to help get things set up for the administration of the estate.
Anytime you are doing something which will be audited by a court — and everything you do in a probate proceeding will be audited — it is essential that you keep careful and complete records of everything you do in connection with the assets of the deceased.
Clarity Legal Group® will help with the different steps you have to take as the executor. We can work with you to make sure you have legal authority you need to manage estate assets. We’ll help you to understand the rules for providing notice to interested parties and will assist you with dealing with the IRS by taking steps like getting a tax ID for the estate if you need one.
Hopefully. your probate process will only involve the frustrations you expect, and not the unexpected. Sometimes this is not the case, and disputes can develop with creditors or someone might decide that they want to contest the will. In these cases, you’ll also need to take on the responsibility of participating in an additional legal proceeding to protect the assets of the estate and the rights of those who are interested in the estate. All of this can be complicated, but we take care of the legalities for you.
Getting the right help during this process is essential for a lot of reasons. Not only do you want to make sure assets are protected and passed on to heirs or beneficiaries in a timely manner, but you also want to make certain that you fulfill your obligations. That’s because an executor is considered a fiduciary and owes a fiduciary duty, which is the highest duty that a person can owe. You will rest a little easier if you have an experienced professional helping you through this process.
Getting Help from a Probate Lawyer
A probate lawyer at Clarity Legal Group® can provide the help and support that you need if you have been named as executor of an estate. To find out more about the assistance that we can offer you as you fulfill your role as executor and facilitate the transfer of estate assets, give us a call at 919-484-0012 or contact us online today.