The estate administration process, especially if an estate tax return is required, is detailed and the work must be meticulous. Because of all of the tax issues, this area of legal practice can be most challenging. The duties of a personal representative can be overwhelming for someone who is unfamiliar with the process. Many clients serve in that capacity only once in their lifetime.
Probate: Officially, probate, is a court procedure to (a) determine the validity of a will; or (b) determine legal heirs, if no will. A probate proceeding also names a personal representative to perform fiduciary roles in settling a decedent's estate. Whether or not a court proceeding is necessary, unofficially a "probate matter" in a law office would include such things as:
filing necessary documents with the court and swearing in of the personal representative
assisting the personal representative to inventory all of the probate and non-probate assets
paying final expenses and debts of the decedent
filing an estate tax return, if necessary
filing the necessary income taxes
preparing an accounting
distributing the remaining assets to the proper beneficiaries
Our attorney can determine whether or not a probate action in court is necessary, the first responsibility may include drafting the documents necessary for a court probate proceeding. Among other things, notice to creditors is published, the attorney is aware of all creditor's claims filed, and the numerous timetables to be dealt with in a probate proceeding are met. If an ancillary probate is necessary, we will communicate with the attorney in the other state regarding the property owned by the decedent in that state and make sure that all necessary transfers of title are accomplished.
Inventory: One of the primary responsibilities of a personal representative is to prepare an inventory of the estate assets, both probate and non-probate assets. Another important responsibility of a personal representative is to determine the value of these assets on the decedent's date of death.
A determination can be made by your attorney as to whether or not a United States Estate Tax Return must be filed. Our firm will also assist with:
obtaining real estate appraisals,
valuing stocks and bonds,
getting date of death balances on all bank accounts,
ordering statements from life insurance companies (to file with the estate tax return);
obtaining appraisals on collections, antiques, etc.
Valuing assets for an estate tax return is a time-consuming and tedious process. After all assets have been identified and valued according to IRS and state regulations, proper deductions must be identified so that the taxable estate can be calculated. including such things as:
claims against the estate
debts and mortgages
transfers for public, charitable and religious uses
bequests to the surviving spouse (marital deduction)
Our firm can work closely with the decedent's accountant in preparing all income tax returns, including (a) preparing of all SS-4 forms to obtain federal identification numbers for the estate and all trusts included in the estate; and (b) helping the personal representative gather all the necessary forms and information for the accountant.
An accounting is a summary of income and expenses which shows profits and losses. Although accountings can be waived by the beneficiaries of an estate, it is often required, and quite appropriate so that a personal representative accounts for all the assets for which he or she has been responsible. This protects both the personal representative and the beneficiaries.
Distributions and Transfers of Title: Once the estate tax return has been filed, all expenses paid and the accounting prepared, distributions are made to the proper beneficiaries. We can assist the personal representative in transferring the title to these assets to the proper beneficiaries, such as preparation of deeds and affidavits of survivorship for real estate and working with stock transfer agents for the transfer of stock and mutual funds. We can also help by preparing a settlement agreement among the beneficiaries. And finally, we can can assist the personal representative in obtaining receipt and release forms when the distributions are made.
Each probate is unique and there is much more that may go into the management of an estate, such as elections by surviving spouses, renunciations and disclaimers, will contests, calculations of marital deductions, etc.
Our firm has specifically trained paralegals that work closely with the supervising attorney, and can be extremely effective, both in administration of the estate and in cost-effectiveness, in assisting an attorney with the probate process.