Rocket Lawyer can help if you've recently lost a loved one. For most people, the death of someone close is difficult and can be especially challenging if the person is your spouse, a parent, or a close friend. The last thing you want to worry about is the financial and legal tasks that accompany this sudden loss. Fortunately, most Trust and Estate tasks are not urgent and allow you time to grieve. However, after some time has passed, you will need to gather information about your loved one's Estate and assume any legal roles stated in their Will.
What is a trustee? And what's an executor?
Depending on the Will, you may be named the Executor of the Estate or Trustee of a Trust. The Executor is responsible for taking care of the affairs of the Estate, including probate procedures and filing the decedent's final tax returns (the decedent is the person who died). The Trustee serves as the legal owner of the Trust's assets and is responsible for managing and distributing the assets according to the terms of the Trust. Because both roles require legal duties that must be carried out efficiently, you may consider hiring a professional to help you understand your state law and help you carry out your duties. If you don't feel capable of carrying out these functions, you may step down and allow someone else to assume the role. While this is undoubtedly a difficult time for you, it is important to understand the duties of each role, Executor or Trustee, so that you can ease the process for everyone involved.
Your loved one may have named you the Executor of the Will. Understanding the duties of an Executor will help you determine whether you are prepared to serve as one. As the Executor, your general task is to represent the Estate for legal purposes. You can consult with an attorney in your state through Rocket Lawyer to ensure that you properly file the Will and petition naming you the Executor or personal representative in the appropriate probate court.
Next, you will need to manage the expenses and affairs of the Estate, which may include paying any debts, expenses, or taxes, planning for any liquidity or cash needs, and having all of the decedent's assets appraised. You may have to file a probate inventory, which requires you to find out everything your loved one owned and file an "inventory" list with the probate court. While managing these tasks, you must issue a public notice of probate, likely in a newspaper, and a statutory notice to beneficiaries to inform them of their interest in the Estate. You must also file a final income tax return for your loved one and one for the Estate if it holds any assets or earned interest or dividends.
Once the Estate is in order, you will then distribute the Estate to the heirs or beneficiaries of the Estate. After the period of time allotted for creditors to make claims on the Estate has elapsed, you will distribute all of the Estate's remaining assets according to the Will and/or state law. Finally, you will file a final account with the probate court, listing any income to the Estate since the date of your loved one's death and all expenses and distributions. Once the probate court approves the final account, you will be able to distribute the remaining assets in the closing reserve and complete your work. If you cannot assume these duties, you can step down as Executor and either the Will or the court will appoint someone to take your place.
If you are named the Trustee of your loved one's living Trust, your responsibilities vary from those of the Executor. If you aren't serving as both the Executor of the Estate and Trustee of the Trust, you want to stay in close touch with the Executor during the first few months. This is because the Executor may transfer the Estate's assets that are not held in the Trust, to the Trust, where they become your responsibility.
Your initial task is to organize the Trust. This may require you to gather information about the Trust, including writing letters and making phone calls, filing tax returns, transferring ownership of any real Estate, and so on. If the Trust instructs that you distribute the Trust property to beneficiaries immediately, you may complete your responsibilities in a short period of time. However, if you are in charge of administering an ongoing Trust, often for minor children, your responsibilities can continue for years.
Specifically, organizing the Trust will require you to obtain death certificates, find and file the Will with the appropriate probate court if the Executor has not done so, and notify the Social Security Administration and the state's Department of Health of your loved one's death. You need to take an inventory of the Trust's assets, protect the Trust's property, identify the Trust's beneficiaries, and notify them of their status. You must transfer the Trust property into your name as the Trustee, review the Trust instruments, and maintain a record-keeping system in order to keep track of the Trust's assets, appraising them if necessary, and pay any debts.
Many of these tasks are straightforward, but they depend on your ability to organize and keep track of what you're doing with the Trust's property, what the Trust owned, and what the Trust owes. As your final tasks, you will need to monitor your loved one's incoming mail and pay debts as they come up, which may include funeral and administrative expenses (including lawyers, employees, and tax preparers).
Serving as the Executor of the Estate, Trustee of the Trust or both may seem like a lot to handle while grieving the loss of your loved one. Remember to give yourself time to cope with your loss and always consult with an attorney through Rocket Lawyer if you have any questions about your responsibilities.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.