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What to do when you are name executor of an estate, P.1

Probate refers to the legal process of winding up the estate of a deceased person. Because there are a number of steps to the process and the death of a loved one can be difficult, the probate process can be overwhelming, especially for those who've been appointed as executor who have never been through it and don't have a basic understanding about how it works. In particular, it can be difficult to navigate probate and tax laws. There are a number of things one can do, though, to make this easier.

The first thing one can do is seek out professional advice. Consulting an accountant and an attorney can be extremely helpful for getting a handle on the probate process. An tax profession will be able to assist with the tax return and tax issues issues arising with inherited property. An appraiser will be able to do a market analysis on various items. Consulting an attorney will help with getting an understanding of the process as a whole, and specific legal steps that need to be taken in a number of situations that may arise.

Before one consults the professionals, though, one will usually already have gotten one's hands on the deceased person's will or trust. Ideally, you will know where these documents are located beforehand, but that isn't always the case. A copy of the will is needed for the probate court, and has to be filed within a certain time period. In certain cases, probate may be avoided altogether, if a trust-based plan was set up properly. Depending on the state one is in, avoiding probate can be a real blessing.

One of the things an executor will have to do is obtain the death certificate. This can be obtained from the funeral home. Copies of the death certificate will be needed for notifying financial accounts, life insurance, Veterans Administration or Social Security Administration, as well as for filing a last tax return. If the deceased was receiving government benefits, they appropriate agency should be notified immediately, as it can be difficult to pay that money back.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at other steps an executor will need to take.

Source: Fox Business, "Seven Tips if You Are the Executor of an Estate," Judy Martel, June 13, 2012

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