It is difficult when a family loses a loved one. Not only are they dealing with the heartbreak and the loss, but the decedent’s heirs must learn how to properly transfer their loved one’s assets and property. To accomplish this task, the family must go to court. It may seem like all you need is a death certificate, but that’s hardly the case. Transferring a decedent’s property is a very complicated process called probate.
What is probate exactly? It’s a court-supervised process where a will is validated by the court, an executor or personal representative is appointed to administer the estate, taxes and debts are paid off and what’s left over is distributed to the heirs of the estate.
If there was a will when the decedent passed, the person named in the will as executor will handle the estate, that is if the person accepts the position. If the decedent died intestate (without a will), the court shall appoint an administrator (personal representative) to handle the estate. The duties of the executor or personal representative are the same; the only difference is in the title.
Duties of the Executor or Personal Representative
The executor or personal representative has what is called a “fiduciary duty” to act in the best interests of the estate. This means that they must behave responsibly, they cannot engage in any self-dealing, they cannot comingle their assets with the estate’s assets, they cannot favor one heir over another, and they cannot make “risky” investments.
Duties of the executor include:
- Collect assets
- Pay debts
- Pay expenses
- Pay taxes
- Manage investments
- Report to the probate court
- Collect rents (where applicable)
- Care for the decedent’s real estate
- Distribute assets to the heirs of the estate
“How long does probate take?” On average, probate takes between nine and eighteen months, but it can take longer, especially when there is real estate to be sold. Because probate takes so long, a lot of people take measures to avoid probate or at the very least, to ensure certain assets pass outside of probate so their heirs can get some of their money sooner than later.