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Archive for February, 2011

Estate Planning Basics – What Is An Estate Executor?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

An estate executor is responsible for settling decedent estates and distributing inheritance property to designated beneficiaries. Estate administration can encompass everything from making funeral arrangements to selling real estate. Duties vary depending on the types of inheritance property and whether the estate must undergo probate or is protected by a trust.

In most cases, the estate executor will require help from a probate lawyer or estate planner. Settling probate estates is generally more time-consuming than settling estates protected by a trust. Estate management can be more complicated when decedents die without executing a last will and testament.

The probate process can take several months to complete. Estate administrators must secure and inventory personal property. Valuable assets such as real estate and automobiles must be appraised to determine the date-of-death value. All outstanding debts must be paid and a final tax return filed. Once estate matters are settled, inheritance property is distributed.

Decedents designate heirs and beneficiaries within their Will. If no Will exists, distribution of assets occurs based on state probate law. Property is usually transferred to the decedents surviving spouse or direct lineage heirs such as children, siblings, or parents.

Some states require estate executors who are managing probate estates to obtain court confirmation. This means that all transactions must be presented to the court for approval. Other states allow estate administrators to manage the estate without court approval. Additionally, many states require estate executors to become bonded because they act as a fiduciary. By law, estate executors must be at least 18 years of age and never convicted of a felony.

Individuals should give careful consideration when designating an estate administrator. Sadly, death often brings out the worst in people and can lead to family squabbles over who should receive inheritance gifts. Heirs who feel slighted or were left out of the Will can contest the Will, which will prolong the probate process and add additional legal expenses to the estate.

When heirs contest a decedent’s last Will they are responsible for legal fees. If a judge rules in their favor, the estate may be required to reimburse legal fees. Contesting a Will often causes financial hardship to the estate and reduces the amount of inheritance cash available. When possible, estate executors should strive to reach an amicable agreement to prevent the Will from being contested.

Individuals who choose to disinherit an heir from their Will should include a disinheritance clause. Stating the reason for disinheritance can lessen the chance of having the Will contested. When family strife exists, individuals should consider retaining the services of a probate attorney to manage estate settlement duties. Heirs are often less inclined to initiate a lawsuit when lawyers are appointed to manage the estate.

Individuals can engage in estate planning strategies which allow certain assets to avoid probate. These can include life insurance policies, retirement accounts, checking and savings accounts, and investment portfolios.

It is important to advise estate administrators of the location of important documents and provide a copy of the last Will. When records are stored in a safe deposit box, a key should be given to the probate executor. It is also smart to provide copies of real estate deeds, automobile titles, and life insurance policies.

Individuals should update their Will when major changes occur. These might include buying or selling real estate, adding new heirs, or taking out individuals previously named within the Will.

Many people procrastinate about estate planning. However, dying without a Will prolongs the probate process and places additional duties on the appointed estate executor. Taking time to put affairs in order is one of the greatest gifts anyone can leave their loved one.

Real estate investor, Simon Volkov has published an extensive estate planning and probate article library via his website. Topics include tips to avoid probate, designating an estate executor, and hiring probate lawyers. Learn more about the probate process at

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