You may be unsure of your responsibilities if you have been named as the personal representative (executor) in someone’s last will and testament (will). Many individuals are unaware of what an executor does, let alone whether qualifications are required to serve in this capacity. Some estates are complex and require full administration, while others are relatively simple to administer.
To help you understand this role, an experienced probate lawyer from PJI Law, PLC, in Fairfax, Virginia, explains an executor’s responsibilities and how an attorney can guide you through this complicated legal process.
Who Can Serve as an Executor of an Estate in Virginia?
Any competent adult over 18 can serve as an executor. Many people name a spouse or a family member as their executor but can also appoint a professional executor or a lawyer to handle their estate administration upon their passing.
An executor needs to be responsible, trustworthy, and willing to take on the duties of an estate representative. An executor has a fiduciary duty to promote the best interest of the decedent’s (deceased person) estate according to their will. Violating this duty may lead to the executor’s removal and legal repercussions like lawsuits, fines, and even jail time.
The executor may be required to obtain a bond to fulfill their duties as the estate’s fiduciary since they are the person in a position of trust with respect to the decedent’s property. This bond guarantees that the executor will adhere to the law and fulfill their responsibility to distribute the estate’s assets.
Initiating the Probate Process
Probate is the legal process of distributing a person’s property and assets after death. Upon the decedent’s death, the executor of the estate can begin the probate process by scheduling an appointment with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the proper jurisdiction. In addition to other information, the executor named in the will must bring the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate to the probate appointment.
Only after accepting appointment as executor and qualifying before the Clerk is the executor given authority to administer the decedent’s estate. Once qualified, the Clerk will issue Certificates of Qualification, also known as letters testamentary. This is the written document bearing the Court’s seal authorizing the executor to act on the estate’s behalf.
Duties of An Executor
In addition to other duties, once qualified as the estate’s executor, the executor will need to:
Send Notice of Probate
The executor will need to send a Notice of Probate to all beneficiaries and heirs within 30 days of being qualified as executor. The notice informs these individuals that probate has been opened and an executor appointed. The executor must file an affidavit with the Clerk within four months, indicating notice was given.
Open Estate Checking Account
When opening a checking account for the estate, the executor must provide the bank with a death certificate and a certificate of qualification. If the estate’s assets produce income, the executor will need to obtain a tax identification number for the estate from the Internal Revenue Service.
The executor is responsible for transferring the contents of the decedent’s personal bank accounts to the estate checking account. The executor must keep thorough records of each bank account transaction. Upon conclusion of the probate process, funds will be distributed to heirs and used to pay off any estate debts, taxes, or other fees.
An executor must locate and safeguard any estate assets that must pass through probate. This typically excludes any accounts that pass to beneficiaries directly, property the decedent had co-owned with a surviving spouse, and property in revocable living trusts.
Establish Date-of-Death Values
The executor must order appraisals of any real property or business assets of disputable value that belong to the estate. Valuing probate assets is indispensable, but non-probate assets may also require valuation if the estate owes estate taxes since a taxable estate includes both probate and non-probate assets.
File Inventory of Decedent’s Property and Assets
An inventory of the decedent’s property and assets must be filed with the Virginia Commissioner of Accounts within four months. Only assets that must be probated need to be included. If the estate is small, this requirement can sometimes be waived.
Prepare and File Final Income and Estate Tax Returns
The executor will need to handle any federal and state tax documentation on behalf of the decedent, including income tax returns, estate tax returns, inheritance taxes, and trust income taxes.
Pay Debts, Claims Against Estate, and Administrative Expenses
The executor must pay the estate administration expenses, such as appraisal, court, and attorney fees, using the estate checking account. If necessary, the executor may be required to sell estate assets to cover these costs before the conclusion of probate. In addition to satisfying any tax obligations, the executor must pay the deceased’s final bills and debts and any ongoing administrative costs and claims against the estate.
File Annual Accounting
These accountings inform the Court of the executor’s actions on behalf of the estate. The first accounting is due within 16 months and covers the first year of the estate. Subsequent accountings, if required, are due within four months of the end of the accounting period chosen by the executor but no later than 16 months after the last accounting.
Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries
After discharging all debts, fees, and taxes, the executor will distribute the estate balance to the beneficiaries. The distribution of assets happens after the probate process ends. It requires filing all the necessary documentation, such as a list of all probate assets with their values and an account of any estate taxes, debts, and other expenses the representative had paid.
How a Probate Lawyer Can Help Estate Executors
A probate attorney can help estate executors in Virginia:
- Identify, secure, and obtain appraisals for estate assets
- Collect life insurance policy proceeds
- Assist in discharging any debts and bills
- Prepare and file all probate court documents
- Resolve any estate or inheritance taxes
- Manage the estate account
- Manage all of the steps in the probate process, including those mentioned in this article.
PJI Law, PLC: Your Estate Administration Attorneys in Northern Virginia
At PJI Law, PLC, each client receives our complete dedication, personal attention, and courteous, white-glove service. To provide the best experience possible, our skilled team responds quickly to each client and employs cutting-edge technology.
If you’ve been named an executor of someone’s estate and are looking for a Northern Virginia “probate attorney near me,” our team of probate attorneys in Fairfax, Virginia, is here to guide you through the complicated probate process. Call PJI Law, PLC today at (703) 865-6100 to schedule your consultation. You can also fill out our online form here.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.