What is Estate Administration?
McClelland Law Firm, P.A. is here to help you and your loved ones understand probate and trust administration, estate planning, Medicaid planning, crisis planning, guardianship, and elder law. Our Benton, Sherwood, and Searcy law offices welcome you to contact us and learn how we can help meet your estate planning legal matters in White County, Pulaski County, Saline County, and throughout Arkansas. Do you need a probate attorney in Little Rock, AR, or a probate attorney in Searcy, AR? We have attorneys familiar with the courts in your area.
Probate Can Be Difficult.
The emotional trauma brought on by the death of a close family member is often accompanied by bewilderment about the financial and legal steps the survivors must take. The spouse who passed away may have handled all of the couple’s finances. Or perhaps a child must probate the estate, and they know little about the process. This task may come on top of commitments to family and work that can’t be set aside. Finally, the estate itself may be in disarray or scattered among many accounts, which is not unusual for generations that saw banks collapse during the Depression.
What Do I Do?
If you or your loved one live in White County, Pulaski County, Saline County, or in cities like Benton, Little Rock, and Sherwood, AR, we’ve set out the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor or personal representative in the deceased family member’s will. Matters can be a bit more complicated in the absence of a will because it may not be clear who has the responsibility of carrying out these steps.
First, secure the tangible property.
This means anything you can touch, such as silverware, dishes, furniture, or artwork. You will need to determine accurate values of each piece of property, which may require appraisals, and then distribute the property as the deceased directed. If property is passed around to family members before you have the opportunity to take an inventory, this will become a difficult, if not impossible, task. Of course, this does not apply to gifts the deceased may have made during life, which will not be part of their estate.
Second, take your time.
You don’t need to take any other steps immediately. While bills need to be paid, they can wait a month or two without adverse repercussions. It’s more important that you and your family have time to grieve. Financial matters can wait. (One exception: Social Security should be notified within a month of death. If a Social Security payment is inadvertently deposited after the death of a loved one, social security will automatically reverse that deposit within thirty (30) days.) If checks are issued following death, you could be in for a battle.
Finally, reach out.
When you’re ready, but not a day sooner, meet with an attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the deceased’s estate. Bring as much information as possible about finances, taxes, and debts. Don’t worry about putting the papers in order first; our estate planning lawyers have experience organizing and understanding confusing financial statements.
What Does the Probate Process Look Like?
The exact rules of estate administration differ from state to state. In general, they include the following steps:
- Filing the will and petition at the probate court to be appointed executor or personal representative. In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the court to be appointed administrator of the estate.
- Gathering the assets. You must find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an “inventory,” with the probate court. It’s generally best to consolidate all the estate funds as much as possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account, either one you establish or is set up by your attorney, so you can keep track of all expenditures.
- Paying bills and taxes. If a state or federal estate tax return is needed—generally, if the estate exceeds $1 million in value—it must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you don’t have all the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.
- Filing tax returns. You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent, and if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate. If the estate earns income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number to track earnings.
- Distributing property to the heirs and beneficiaries. Generally, executors don’t pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which can be as long as a year after the date of death. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, they can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and the costs of closing out the estate.
- Filing a final account.The executor must file an account with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve and finish their work.
Some of these steps can be eliminated by avoiding probate through joint ownership or trusts. But whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns, and distribute the property to the rightful heirs. You can make it easier for your heirs by keeping good records of your assets and liabilities. This will shorten the process and reduce the legal bill. Reach out to McClelland Law Firm, P.A. for experienced probate and estate administration lawyers in White County, Pulaski County, and Saline County, Arkansas, in cities like Sherwood, Little Rock, and Benton, AR.
At McClelland Law Firm, we believe that limiting our practice areas provides the greatest value to our clients. To us, value means providing exceptional service and efficient processes for each of our practice areas.
We are committed to compassionate representations, especially as it relates to elder law. No one should feel pressured, controlled, or “talked down” to in any meeting. Every client deserves to be heard and understood.
McClelland Law Firm, P.A. is here to help you and your loved ones understand probate and trust administration, estate planning, Medicaid planning, crisis planning, guardianship, and elder law. Our Benton, Sherwood, and Searcy law offices welcome you to contact us and learn how we can help meet your elder law legal matters in White, Pulaski, and Saline County, and throughout Arkansas.