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I’m a Beneficiary to an Estate. How Does the Process Work?

Person signing documents

Your spouse or surviving parent has died. She had assets – a home, a car, stocks and bonds, checking and savings accounts, and personal items. Now what happens? The following is a brief summary of how the process works.

  • Someone, probably you or another close relative or friend, will need to contact an attorney to get the process going.
  • The attorney will need the deceased’s official, signed Will (if one exists).  If you have the Will, that makes this part easy.  If you don’t have it, the attorney will track it down.  If there is no Will, the attorney will proceed without one.
  • The attorney will go to state probate court with the Executor(s) – the person or persons identified in the Will with responsibility for “settling” the estate.  If there is no Will, or no Executor was named in the Will, the court will name an Executor.  In either case, an Executor will be officially appointed by the court.
  • Within 60 days of having been appointed, the Executor must notify all beneficiaries of the Will and next of kin that:
  1. the Will has been probated (admitted to court).
  2. an Executor has been appointed (name and contact information included).
  3. Included with the notification will be a copy of the the Will or information on how to obtain a copy of the Will.
Additionally, the Executor will oversee the following:
  • inventory the deceased’s assets.
  • Pay all:
  1. Outstanding bills and expenses (including expenses incurred by the Executor in fulfilling his/her responsibilities).
  2. State and federal income taxes.
  3. State and federal estate taxes.

After completing all of the above, distribute the balance of the estate to the beneficiaries.

In cases where the deceased completed beneficiary designation forms, the Executor will also oversee notification of the necessary financial institutions so that the proceeds can be issued to the beneficiaries.  Any assets requested via beneficiary designation fall outside of the probate process.

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Posted in: Estate Administration