The Pennyborn.com Probate Guide is designed to provide a brief overview of the issues facing executors, personal representatives, and administrators of a deceased personís estate. This free guide is also suggested reading if you are making a will or living trust and want a better understanding of what happens when your estate is subject to probate. For tips on how to avoid probate, see non-probate transfers.
One of the most complicated duties an executor or personal representative must perform is filing tax returns for the decedent's estate. These must be filed according to federal and state deadlines. Most people are familiar with filing income tax returns. However, as an executor, you may be required to file several other types of returns as well. For an overview of the types of returns required and filing deadlines, go to Types of Tax Returns Due for the Deceased Person and the Estate.
If Deceased Owned Out of State Property
If you are trying to settle an estate without a lawyer, be aware that estate administration is much more complicated if the decedent owned out of state property. When a deceased person owned real property in a state other than the state where he or she was domiciled, it may require ancillary probate. This means going through probate in more than one state. If administering the estate will require ancillary probate, retain an attorney that can assist you with the process.
How To Be An Executor
If this is your first time being the executor or personal representative of an estate, you may have questions about where to start. For an overview of your duties, see
How to Probate an Estate. The most important thing to learn is your fiduciary duties. In this role, you are held to certain standards of conduct by the law. If you want to avoid disputes with heirs or liability for your actions as executor, make sure you understand your duties under state law. See our guide for executors.You may also have questions about what powers you have in your role as executor. For an overview of actions a personal representative or executor can take, review Executor Powers.Another common question about probate is what to do if you do not want to be the executor. For example, if you know the heirs are going to be difficult or you do not have time to do the work involved, you may not want to be executor. For answers, go to Frequently Asked Questions About Probate.
Does the Estate Qualify as a Small Estate?
If the value of assets in the estate is below a certain dollar amount, the estate may qualify as a small estate. Qualifying as a small estate means the person responsible for administering the estate may be able to avoid some of the formal and costly legal proceedings associated with
Each state has its own laws regarding probate. Therefore, the dollar thresholds for qualifying as a small estate vary, depending on the state where the deceased was domiciled. For information on how to calculate the value of a probate estate and how small estates are administered, go to
probate of small estates.
If the Deceased Did Not Leave a Will
If someone close to you has died and you are responsible for settling the estate, you may be wondering what to do if you cannot locate a will. If the decedent did not make a valid will, the estate will pass according to the laws of intestate succession. These are state laws that outline inheritance rights of family members that survive a decedent.
For an overview of who has the right to inherit and how property passes when there is no will or trust document, go to
dying without a will.
To Do List For Executors
After you are named executor or personal representative of an estate, you have a lot of things to get done in a limited amount of time. You may be uncertain about how to be an executor, yet you will need to answer questions from heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors promptly and provide the correct information. To help new executors get a quick overview of the steps they need to take to settle an estate, Pennyborn.com offers a free checklist for executors. To view this free form, go to
Books on How to Probate an Estate
If the topic you want is not listed in the free probate guide index above, see our books about probate page for a list of comprehensive guides on probate and estate administration.
The Pennyborn.com Probate Guide was updated on June 8, 2017.