You next must locate all the property, determine its value, collect money owed the estate, and pay debts. Professional appraisals may be needed for some items.
You are responsible for estate and inheritance taxes and for the decedent’s final federal and state income tax returns.
You can’t distribute property to heirs until you have receipts showing that all taxes have been paid and you have filed an accounting with the court. There is a waiting period during which people can object to what you’ve done, but sometimes this comes after you’ve distributed the property. In any case, once you’ve filed the accounting and distributed the property, and the waiting period has expired, the estate is “settled” and your responsibility ends.
Some people have problems making decisions and handling their financial affairs as they get older. The cause may be due to health problems (like Alzheimer’s disease), or it may be due to something else.
This lets you appoint someone to make your medical decisions if you cannot make them yourself. The decisions can cover a variety of medical matters, including consent for hospitalization.
This document lets you specify the types of life prolonging treatment you want, or do not want, if you become terminally ill. It’s called a living will because it takes effect while you are still alive.
Most people know that a Will lets them determine who will receive their property when they die. Despite this significant benefit, relatively few people have Wills.
If you die without a Will, your property will be distributed according to state law. It may not be distributed the way you want, since it is distributed without considering the needs or circumstances of recipients. A Will can do more than just determine how property is distributed upon death. It can name an executor. The executor will oversee your estate’s financial affairs during “probate,” including making sure your debts are paid and that your property is distributed as stated in your will. Without a will, a judge chooses your executor. A Will can also set up a trust, which can help save taxes. Thus, for people with substantial assets, a Will can be a cost-saving tool.
For married couples with young children, Wills are essential. Each spouse should have a Will in order to select a guardian for the children in case both parents die. The guardian will raise the children and manage their money. Without a Will, the critical decision of who will be your children’s guardian will be left to a judge.
It is a good idea to review your Will every two to three years to make sure that it is up-to-date with your current family circumstances and tax laws. In addition, it is especially important to review and update your Will when:
There are specific procedures for changing a Will. So if you want to make a change, do not simply cross out the part you want to delete and write in your changes. Your changes may not be honored, and you could even void the entire Will. To make a valid change to your Will, you must properly make a new Will or add a “codicil,” which is an amendment to your Will.
Many people who hear the word “Probate” conjure up images of the long and complicated process that takes place when someone dies. Although traditional Probate procedures have tended to be lengthy and complex, most people shouldn’t have too much difficulty serving as the personal representative of an Estate (called the “Executor” if a person dies with a Will or “Administrator” if the person dies without a Will).