A step-by-step guide to settling a loved one's estate.
Being an executor or personal representative is no easy task. For many, the job comes at a time of high emotion and is something that has never been done before. The Complete Executor's Guidebook is here to help ease this troubling time and make this overwhelming task manageable.
It gives you everything you need to navigate through all the paperwork and responsibility that comes with this role. It takes you step-by-step though all of the legal and financial matters that must be completed and provides you with a plan to timely settle an estate. With it you will feel confident that you are doing everything you need to do, such as:
- Preparing for your role as an executor or trustee
- Making claims for insurance, social security and other benefits
- Understanding the will or trust provisions
- Handling situations when documents are missing
- Going to court
- Dealing with taxes
- Finding your state's laws
- Working with lawyers, accountants, insurance agents and others
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About the Author
Benjamin Berkley has practiced law for more than twenty-eight years, specializing in estate planning and estate administration. He earned his law degree from Western State University. In addition to being admitted to the State Bar of California and the United States Supreme Court, he is also licensed by the State of California and the Department of Justice as a private fiduciary for court appointments as a conservator and trustee of estates.
Mr. Berkley also serves as a panel referral attorney for the nation's largest prepaid legal programs, including ARAG Legal, Hyatt Legal, and GE Consumer Signature Legal. He is a network attorney for AARP members. He regularly conducts seminars on estate planning and has become an advocate for senior rights.
Ben lives with his wife and two children in southern California.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from the Introduction of The Complete Executor's Guidebook
The Complete Executor's Guidebook is an instructional guide for anyone administering and managing an estate. Regardless of whether the decedent left a will or a trust, or died without making any estate planning decisions, this book provides step-by-step instructions, checklists, and resource information. If it is determined that the estate must go through court procedures, the book provides a simple-to-follow explanation for navigating through the probate process. In addition, it discusses the many nonlegal and personal issues you must address when representing the survivors of an estate.
The Complete Executor's Guidebook also helps you avoid what could become very costly mistakes for the estate, as well as minimize or eliminate your personal exposure as the representative of the estate. From preplanning discussions with your loved one, to your role at the time of death, and concluding with the closing of the estate, the book will provide both legal and emotional support at a time when it isneeded the most. Finally, it provides a discussion of the ways of avoiding probate.
The frequently asked questions section starting on page xix acts as a brief introduction to immediate issues. After these, the book is divided into two parts.
PART ONE: PREPLANNING AND TRANSITION
Chapter 1 provides an overview of estate administration and translates the often misunderstood legal terminology into everyday language.
Chapter 2 explains what is expected of you as the representative of the estate so that you can decide if you wish to accept your appointment.
If you have been informed, prior to someone's passing, that you have been appointed as the representative of that person's estate, Chapter 3 discusses conversations you should have with your loved one so that you will be better prepared to assume your role upon his or her passing.
If death is imminent, you may be called upon to make legal decisions on behalf of your loved one. Chapter 4 discusses powers of attorney, alternative living arrangements, and hospice care.
Chapter 5 discusses the most immediate issues that must be addressed at the time of passing, including funeral arrangements and the placement of children.
Chapter 6 discusses managing the immediate needs of the survivors at the time of passing, as well as how it is important for you to remain focused on your role and not allow others' personal agendas to interfere with your responsibilities.
Chapter 7 discusses who must be notified upon the deceased's passing and the steps you must take in preparation for commencing a probate.
PART TWO: ESTATE ADMINISTRATION
Chapter 8 discusses locating the will and other estate planning documents, as well as organizing, itemizing, and categorizing the assets of an estate.
Chapter 9 takes you step by step through the formal probate process and concludes with your court appointment as representative of the estate. It also discusses will contests.
Chapter 10 discusses all the steps required in completing a formal probate, including filing reports with the court, notifying creditors, and distributing assets.
If a person leaves an estate but does not leave a will, you may wonder how his or her property is divided. Chapter 11 discusses the laws of intestate succession.
Even if there is a will, it may be subject to interpretation or may be unenforceable. These matters are discussed in Chapter 12.
Chapter 13 discusses when a formal probate is not required and how the assets can be transferred by affidavit or an informal probate process.
Chapter 14 provides a complete discussion of the management of both the assets and liabilities of an estate, including when assets need to be sold and invested. Also, it discusses which bills must be paid even though the estate has not closed.
The loss of a loved one can create an immediate financial hardship for the survivors. Chapter 15 discusses obtaining benefits for the estate.
Chapter 16 discusses the decedent's personal tax liability as well as whether the estate will owe federal and estate taxes.
Chapter 17 discusses your legal rights to receive compensation from the estate for performing your role as the representative of the estate.
Chapter 18 provides a discussion of your role as an advisor to the estate's survivors, who may seek your recommendations for avoiding probate. In addition, it provides information for revising the survivor's estate planning documents as a result of the loss of the decedent.
Chapter 19 provides an overview of revocable living trusts and how to administer a trust after the trustor's passing.
Chapter 20 discusses the role of an attorney in representing an estate. It discusses when an attorney may be necessary. It also provides practical information to assist you in finding the right attorney.
Chapter 21 is my favorite chapter. Though very brief, it makes sense of the reason why books on estate administration are ever written. It provides information for saying thanks to your loved one.
Following Chapter 21 is a glossary of the most commonly used legal terms.
Appendices A - G include reference material, worksheets, questionnaires, and sample forms.
Table of Contents
Frequently Asked Questions
Part One: Preplanning and Transition
Chapter 1: Plain English Definitions
Wills and Probate
Chapter 2: Making Sure the Shoe Fits
Accepting or Declining the Appointment
Anticipating Demands of the Heirs
Stepping Up in a Time of Need
Think About it
Resigning After Accepting the Appointment
Chapter 3: Preplanning: A Conversation with Your Loved One
The Testator's Last Wishes for Funeral and Final Interment
Storage of the Documents
The Consequences of Items being Kept in a Safe-Deposit Box
The Reluctant Testator
Potential Future Issues that could Affect the Estate
Chapter 4: When Death is Imminent
Providing Assistance in Making Legal Decisions
Petition for Conservatorship
Alternative Housing Options
Chapter 5: At the Time of Passing: Your First Steps
Making Funeral Arrangements
Managing the Estranged Spouse
If Death Occurs at Home
Placement of Children with the Guardian
Taking Care of Pets
If the Decedent Lived Alone
Help Someone Else and Recycle
Chapter 6: At the Time of Passing: Managing the Survivors
Providing Emotional Support
Managing Sibling Rivalry
Show Me the Money: Managing the Greedy and Impatient Heirs
Managing the Heirs' Expectations
Managing the "Entitlement Disease" Factor
A Few More Words about the Grubby, Greedy Heirs
Dealing with Estranged Heirs
Do Not Take Sides
Be the Peacekeeper to Your Family
Confront Resentment Head-on
Respect the Grieving Process and Religious Customs
Chapter 7: At the Time of Passing: Notification and Getting Organized
Locating the Will and Other Estate Planning Documents
Reading of the Will
Obtaining Death Certificates
Solving Immediate Problems
Part Two: Estate Administration
Chapter 8: Locating, Organizing, Itemizing, and Categorizing the Assets and Liabilities of an Estate
Locating the Assets of an Estate
Examine the Contents of a Safe-Deposit Box
Discovery of Embarrassing Assets
Discovering Stocks and Bonds
Review Correspondence from Attorneys and Other Professionals
Wrongful Death Claims
Review Past Tax Returns
Review Correspondence from Real Estate and Title Insurance Companies
Itemizing the Assets
Categorizing the Assets and Liabilities
When a Safe-Deposit Box is Jointly Owned
Chapter 9: Navigating the Sea of Probate
Understanding the Need for a Formal Probate
Getting Started: Initiating a Probate Action
Probate Time Line
Step One: Filing the Petition for Probate
The Role of an Attorney
Where to File the Petition
Step Two: Producing the Original Will
Step Three: Giving Notice
Step Four: The Initial Probate Hearing
Proving the Validity of the Will
If the Maker of the Will was Physically Unable to Sign His or Her Name
When There are Two or More Wills
Whether You Should be Appointed
The Requirements of a Surety Bond
Prior to the Hearing
Chapter 10: Formal Probate: The Next Steps
Acknowledgment of Responsibilities
Duties and Liabilities of Personal Representative
Overview of the Responsibilities of a Representative
Inventorying the Estate
Formal Notification to Creditors
Collecting Debts Owed to the Estate
Filing the Accounting and Closing the Estate
Distributing Assets to Beneficiaries
Chapter 11: When There is No Will
Understanding the Need for Intestate Succession
Untangling the Legalese into English
Determining Who the Children Are
Other Heirs at Law
Chapter 12: Interpreting and Enforcing the Language of the Will
Interpreting Who Receives Specific Gifts
Interpreting Conditional Gifts
Interpreting When a Child is No Longer a Minor
Interpreting Who is the Child of the Decedent
Interpreting Gifts for Pets
Interpreting Assets Left to a Group
When a Will Makes Illegal Provisions
When the Maker of the Will Tries to Control from the Grave
When a Will's Provisions are Illogical
When a Will Leaves Property that No Longer Exists
When the Will Leaves Non-Probate Assets
When a Will Leaves Property to a Former Spouse
When a Will Excludes a Spouse's Legal Rights
When the Will Leaves Property to a Testamentary Trust
When the Will Leaves Property to a Pourover Trust
Chapter 13: When a Formal Probate is Not Required
Transfer of Assets by Affidavit
Sample Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property
Sample Affidavit of Domicile
Summary or Informal Probate
Chapter 14: Managing the Assets and Liabilities of an Estate -
Managing Assets that Diminish in Value
Managing Real Estate
Evicting a Tenant
Managing Personal Property
Managing an Ongoing Business
Managing Debts of the Estate
Chapter 15: Obtaining Benefits for the Estate
Life Insurance and Annuities
Widow's Social Security Benefits
Widow's Social Security Disability Benefits
Employment Retirement Plan Benefits
Bank Account Benefits that are Payable on Death
Savings Bond Benefits
Redeeming Traveler's Checks
Redeeming Unused Airplane Tickets and Prepaid Travel
Chapter 16: Personal and Estate Taxes
Federal and State Personal Tax Returns
Federal and State Estate Tax Returns
Gift Tax Returns
Chapter 17: Your Right to Compensation
Compensation for Administering an Estate
When there are No Available Assets to Pay Compensation
Petitioning for Extraordinary Fees
Importance of Keeping Accurate Records
Chapter 18: Your Role as an Advisor
Payable on Death Bank Accounts
Transfer on Death Registration of Securities
Transfer on Death Registration for Vehicles
Revocable Living Trusts
Creating and Revising Wills and Other Documents for Surviving Spouses
Sample Affidavit-Death of Joint Tenant
Sample Affidavit-Surviving Spouse Succeeding to Title to Community Property
Revising the Named Guardian
Continued Emotional Support
Daily Living Assistance
Chapter 19: Revocable Trusts and Trust Management
Translating Trust Terminology into English
A/B Bypass Trusts
The Role of the Trustee
When the Trust Names Cotrustees
Declining Your Appointment as Trustee
Comparison of Trustee and Executor
Step-by-Step Guideline for Trustees
Investing the Assets of the Trust
Compensation for Managing a Trust
Seeking Professional Advice
Chapter 20: Do I Need an Attorney?
Preparing for Your Appointment
Do's and Don'ts for Your First Meeting with the Attorney
Finding a Probate Attorney
Chapter 21: Words of Thanks
Appendix A: Representative's Checklist
Appendix B: Notification
Appendix C: State-by-State Summary of Probate Laws
Appendix D: Unclaimed Property
Appendix E: Sample Forms
Appendix F: Blank Forms
Appendix G: Resources
About the Author