If you have been named as an executor of a will for a loved one’s estate, it may be helpful familiarize yourself with the basic duties of an executor in Kentucky. While each state has its own laws governing the probate process and the duties of an executor, there are some basic responsibilities that are common to all probate courts. Let our estate planning lawyer explain those basic duties.
The general steps in the probate process
In Kentucky, the probate process is begun in the district court in the county where the deceased resided at the time of their death. After the initial petition is filed, the court will schedule a hearing.
A notice of that hearing needs to be published, pursuant to the court’s formal procedures. The purpose of the notice is to let the public know, as well as all potential heirs and creditors, about the decedent’s death. Remember probate is a public proceeding.
The next step is for the executor to take possession of the assets of the estate that are subject to probate. An inventory and valuation of those assets must be made. If you have questions about any of these steps, contact our estate planning lawyer.
The importance of locating documents
An important duty of the executor is to obtain necessary documents required for the probate process, such as the death certificate and the will and any other documents that may affect probate or distribution of the estate. This also includes any legal documents that will take effect upon that individual’s death.
Priority for distribution of property
When the time comes to distribute the assets of the estate, creditors must be paid first. This includes all creditors who filed legitimate claims with the court, as well as funeral expenses. Next, any applicable estate taxes need to be paid to the federal government. The final distributions are made to the heirs or beneficiaries from the remaining assets in the estate.
Distributing the inheritances as required
The first distributions to be made are based on the terms of any will or trust the decedent may have had. For instance, if the will or trust provides for specific gifts of cash or property to certain named individuals, then those bequests have priority. After those distributions are made, the remaining property is distributed to according to either the will, trust or based on the laws of intestate succession. In some situations, the property can be distributed outright. However, in some cases, it must be first transferred to a trust for the benefit of a particular person or persons.
Before you distribute to heirs, be sure everything else has been paid
One of the biggest mistakes an executor of a will can make is distributing property to the beneficiaries before all of the legitimate debts and taxes have been satisfied. Although the executor would not generally be liable for the debts or taxes of the estate, if there are insufficient funds to meet the estate expenses, the executor could be held personally liable.
Be sure to keep accurate records
As the executor, you will be expected to provide a final accounting. Therefore, it is important to keep accurate records of all transactions you conduct related to the estate. After the accounting is filed and approved by the court, the estate can be closed.
Seek legal or financial advice when you need it
An executor of a will should never make any assumptions regarding what steps need to be taken. The terms of every will are usually very different. In other words, there is no such thing as “standard” distribution provisions.
If you do not have financial experience, it would be wise to consult with a probate attorney about any questions you may have before you make a costly mistake. That way you can have some guidance as to which assets you should sell to produce cash, for instance, to pay expenses, taxes or cash gifts. You can also get advice on how to minimize income and capital gains taxes.
Serving as an executor is an incredibly important job. It requires a great deal of responsibility and work. As such, most executors are entitled to compensation for their service, which is approved by the probate court. If you have any questions or concerns about your duties as an executor, contact an experienced estate planning lawyer.
If you have questions regarding the duties of an executor or any other estate planning matters, please contact the experienced attorneys at the Gersh Law Offices, P.S.C. for a consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (502) 423-7023. We are here to help!