Help! I'm an Executor and I Don't Know What to Do
An executor is the person appointed to administer the estate of a deceased person. In simplistic terms, this means they must settle the deceased’s debts and ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes. It is a position which is sometimes quite complicated and always confers a significant amount of responsibility, and as great responsibility brings with it great liability it is always best to consult a solicitor.
This short article will examine the role and responsibilities of an executor and answer some common questions.
Can I Opt Out?
If you wish to renounce your appointment as executor you can do so by signing a formal ‘renunciation’ and filing it in the Supreme Court. It is important to do this before completing any of the executor’s duties as completing even some of them could stop your renunciation from being effective.
Creating an Inventory of Property
The first thing you should do as an executor is create a list of everything the deceased owned and any payments or other assets they were entitled to. This is called an inventory of property. You have an obligation not to allow any of the assets in the deceased’s will to disappear. It is also a good idea to make a list of all known debts and expenses the deceased had at the time of their passing.
Applying for Probate
Probate is a legal process that is usually required to validate a deceased person’s will in order for their wishes to be carried out by the executor. You may not need to do this if the estate is very small but again it is always best to check with a solicitor first.
In order to apply for probate, you will first need to publish an online probate notice on the Supreme Court Website. Fourteen days later you will be able to apply for probate by lodging the appropriate forms at the Probate Registry of the Supreme Court. You will need:
The original copy of the deceased’s will;
The deceased’s death certificate;
The inventory of property; and
An executor’s affidavit.
Usually, a fee will apply at this stage, but there are exceptions made for estates valued at less than $100,000.
Settling Expenses and Debts
People rarely die without leaving behind some outstanding debts and expenses. As executor, after being granted probate, you must deal with them before you can begin to distribute the estate. You will need to open a bank account in the estate’s name and deposit any funds into it. If you have a solicitor assisting you they may have a trust account that you can use.
You cannot pay debts in any order you choose. You must first pay funeral expenses, followed by administration expenses, and then any outstanding tax debts before proceeding to any other debts.
Before being able to distribute assets you should publish a notice with the Supreme Court asking anyone with a claim against the estate to notify you of the details within thirty days. Once that time has passed you can begin to distribute the estate’s assets in accordance with the will. This sometimes involves contacting various financial institutions and companies and asking them to release the deceased’s funds. You may also be required to sell some assets so that money can be divided properly between the beneficiaries. However, you must not sell assets for well below their market value.
Whilst this guide has attempted to simplify the process of being an executor there are still many pitfalls you may inadvertently find yourself in if you are not careful and many processes that may be better managed with advice from a solicitor. Dormers can help you through every step of the process, or assist you in challenging the actions of an executor you believe has mismanaged an estate under which you are a beneficiary.
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