If you live in Kentucky and have been named to serve as the executor of a will, it’s helpful to better understand some simple facts about the Kentucky probate court process.
You Need Court Authorization
Even though you are listed as the estate executor in the will document, you have no authority to handle those assets until you’ve been given that power by the appropriate probate court. To get that authority, you need to formally request it.
The process is straightforward. You need to complete a Petition for Probate of Will form and submit it to the court, along with the Last Will and Testament and the decedent’s death certificate. The submission of this form also formally requests that the court appoint an executor or personal representative to handle the disposition of the will. In cases where an executor is named in the will, the court will typically approve the decedent’s choice. When no will is available, the court appoints someone to administer the intestate estate.
The court will prove the will, unless it has been notarized in a way that makes it self-proving, and issue an order that formally appoints someone to serve as the estate executor. If you’ve been named to serve in that role, that order will provide you with the authority needed to manage the settlement of the estate and complete the probate process.
You’re Responsible for the Decedent’s Assets
According to the laws governing probate in the state of Kentucky, you’ll have two months from the time you’re named as executor to file an inventory that details all the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. That inventory should be an itemized listing of all real estate, bank accounts, bonds, automobiles, certificates of deposit, household and personal belongings, and other property.
You must also take custody of those assets so that they can be protected against loss. Sometimes, this can be as simple as transferring funds into the estate bank account. In other instances, you may need to retrieve property from anyone who isn’t designated to receive it. Investment decisions may need to be made during the probate process, and that may force you to communicate with brokers or others responsible for those decisions.
There is An Order to Everything
It’s important to follow the orderly process in an estate settlement so you can avoid the types of mistakes that could result in financial losses and avoid potential liability that could put your own interests at risk. That order is simple to understand, though:
- Gather assets and secure them.
- Notify heirs and potential creditors. Heirs can be identified from the terms of the will. Creditors can sometimes be directly notified, but you should also publish a formal notice in the local paper to provide unknown claimants an opportunity to stake their claim against the estate.
- Evaluate debt claims and pay those that are valid.
- Calculate taxes and pay any taxes that might be due when you file the decedent’s final income tax returns. If estate tax is due, pay that as well.
- Prepare a final accounting for the court and distribute assets in accordance with the provisions outlined in the will. Ask the court to formally close the estate.
Reporting and Accountability are Critical
You may have heard of instances in which executors found their decisions called into question by disgruntled heirs or the court. To reduce that possibility, be diligent about recording every action that you take in your executor capacity, and equally as diligent in making timely reports to the probate court. The more accurate you are in tracking your actions, the less chance there is that anyone can seriously question your commitment to faithfully settling the estate.
You Could be at Risk
Executors are sometimes the subject of litigation related to their executor duties. This often occurs because of one of several things:
- Some executors make mistakes when managing assets, resulting in financial loss that impacts beneficiary inheritances.
- Executors are sometimes lax about communicating with heirs, which can cause some beneficiaries to suspect that they’re being defrauded – even when they’re not.
- Executors sometimes fail to be as transparent as they should be. That too can raise doubts about their integrity.
Most executors can avoid controversy by faithfully documenting their activities and maintaining clear and transparent lines of communication with all interested parties.
An Attorney Can Help
You can also protect yourself from possible liability by relying on the services of a competent probate attorney. He or she can help to guide you through the executor process and answer questions or concerns that you may have about the Kentucky probate court process. At the Potter Law Firm, we’re committed to providing the help you need to faithfully follow through on your executor duties. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can more effectively serve as a loved one’s estate executor, contact us online or call us today at (606) 324-5516 (Ashland) or (859) 372-6655 (Florence).
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