Being asked to serve as an executor is flattering, as it shows someone you love trusts you enough to put you in charge of managing their estate. However, probating an estate is no simple task, says a recent article from The Mercury, “Planning Ahead: Do you really want to handle probating an estate on your own?”
Having an experienced estate planning attorney help with probate may be the difference between years of headaches and a few months of involvement, but not being overwhelmed with finalizing your loved one’s estate.
First, do you have time or energy to deal with many different bureaucracies? Financial institutions, insurance companies, annuity providers, governmental entities and other entities can be challenging.
Next, are you familiar with the laws, procedures and tax laws in Aunt Lucy’s state? If she lived in your state, you’re about to learn how your state works. If she lives in another state, you’ll need to learn a lot about how an estate is settled in a place you might never have been. However, you may need to travel to and take care of Aunt Lucy’s estate.
If your aunt owned property in more than one jurisdiction, being her executor may require you to become involved in a process called “ancillary probate,” where assets need to be transferred into the names of the beneficiaries listed in her will. You might need to work with an estate planning attorney from Aunt Lucy’s state to get this done.
Another consideration: are you prepared to navigate the family dynamics? This may not be too bad if you are Great Aunt Lucy’s only heir. However, you may become embroiled in family spats if your aunt had a family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If the family members are contentious, you may deal with more than bureaucracies.
A few other things you’ll need to know:
Some states have an estate tax, while others have an inheritance tax. Even if there’s no federal estate tax due on the estate, you’ll need to address these two taxes.
The inheritance tax follows the jurisdiction of the decedent, not the beneficiary. If the state has an inheritance tax, it doesn’t matter if you live out of state. Heirs still must pay the tax.
Non-probate property may still be taxed. In some states, like Pennsylvania, property passed through a Revocable Living Trust is still taxable for the state’s inheritance tax. So is property passing as “Payable on Death” (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD). Jointly titled assets are taxable at a proportionate share of the value.
These details are just a few reasons an experienced estate planning attorney brings value to the estate. It’s not easy for a layperson to settle an estate without the help of skilled professionals.
Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 31, 2024) “Planning Ahead: Do you really want to handle probating an estate on your own?”