Your loved one recently passed away. As you grieve, you discover they've named you executor in their will. Whether they told you beforehand or you're only finding out now, you likely have questions. What does it mean to be the executor of an estate in Kentucky? What responsibilities are involved? Are you eligible? Can you opt out?
In Kentucky, an executor must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Outside of that, there are no other requirements. If the will names you as the executor, you can renounce the appointment. The duties are then passed to the alternate named in the will. If there is no alternate, the court may also appoint someone else.
You don't have to do it alone if you decide to serve as an executor. Indeed, it's recommended that you don't do it yourself. Estates can be complex, especially larger estates. An experienced probate lawyer from Skeeters, Bennett, Wilson & Humphrey can assist you throughout the process.
The Main Steps to Settle an Estate in Kentucky
Probate, or the "proving" of a person's will, must be completed within 10 years of a person's death in the state of Kentucky. That may sound like a lot of time, but it is better to file for probate earlier rather than later. It is easier to settle the deceased's final affairs sooner, so their estate doesn't sit in dormancy for too long.
After someone passes away, it becomes the executor's duty to manage their estate. They need to ensure everything is taken care of before the probate process ends. Put in simple terms, this consists of four main steps:
- Open probate.
- Take inventory.
- Settle the estate.
- Close probate.
Each step may require the executor to perform several duties, contact several people, and complete several forms. In taking inventory of assets, the executor is also responsible for protecting that property until all debts and taxes have been paid. They may also need extra time to contact beneficiaries and disburse funds.
Before someone can start their duties as an executor, even if they are named in the will, the court must approve this nomination and sign an order officially appointing the person as executor. If there is a will, the original document needs to be filed with the petition to be named as executor. The person approved as executor then gains certain legal rights and responsibilities.
What Are My Duties as Executor?
As the executor of an estate, you will have several responsibilities. These may include:
- Locating the deceased person's original will
- Keeping accurate records of all transactions
- Filing the will with the District Court where the deceased person lived
- Filing a petition with the District Court judge to be appointed as executor
- Providing a surety on your bond, like an insurance company, if required
- Proving the will unless it is already self-proved
- Taking inventory of the deceased person's assets and debts
- Filing this inventory with the District Court
- Managing and administering the estate, including protecting assets
- Completing all necessary forms to carry out specific legal actions
- Notifying heirs and creditors of the deceased person's death
- Filing other periodic reports with the court as needed
- Paying any outstanding debts or taxes owed by the estate
- Distributing assets to the beneficiaries according to the will
- Winding up any other financial matters of the deceased person
- Participating in the process for guardianship or conservatorship for minors if needed
- Preparing and filing a final settlement with the District Court
- Closing the estate
In filing an estate inventory, the executor must record every item "of significant value." They have 60 days to do this. If new items are found, the inventory can be amended later.
The executor must keep accurate records throughout this process. Keep all receipts relating to funeral expenses, for example. Once all debts and taxes have been paid, the executor must then prepare a final settlement. If everything is completed to the probate court's satisfaction, the estate can then be closed. At that point, the executor is relieved from further duties.
Who Pays for Expenses Relating to Executing the Will?
You do not need to pay for anything relating to your duties as an executor. While you are responsible for paying all debts, the payments come from the assets of the estate. You do not pay for debts of the estate personally. This applies to any taxes owed by the estate as well.
If you have expenses in your duties as executor, the estate may be able to reimburse you. Keep all receipts and discuss the issue with your estate attorney. If you hire a lawyer for the probate, the estate pays the lawyer fee.
Also, the court may decide that an executor is entitled to "reasonable compensation for their services." This is subject to court approval and is not automatic. If you are taking time off from your job to act as executor, you may want to file this request with the court. The compensation comes out of the estate.
What Am I Not Responsible for Doing?
Unless you cosigned on a loan with the deceased, you are not responsible for their debts as an executor. But, you do need to pay them out from the estate. This is true for any taxes owed by the estate too. You are not responsible for taxes owed prior to their death. If you need legal advice, you do not need to pay out of pocket. The estate can pay for any legal fees involved in managing the estate, which means there is no cost to you when seeking advice from our experienced Kentucky probate attorneys.
As executor, you are not necessarily responsible for final arrangements. However, funeral expenses are considered "preferred" creditors. Any amounts owed can be paid out of the estate.
When the will establishes a trust, the executor must respect this request. But, the executor is not responsible for overseeing the trust unless the will specifies it.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Probate?
Anyone who proceeds as an executor without a lawyer is considered self-represented. However, it is not advisable to proceed without legal advice. Self-represented executors are still required to act in accordance with all statutes and rules. And, as executor, you may be held personally liable for any mistakes you make.
Probate is complex. An experienced probate lawyer from Skeeters, Bennett, Wilson & Humphrey can make sure you follow the mandated procedures correctly. If there are any disputes or complications that arise, we can help you navigate them.