When a person dies with a will, the will designates an executor. This is a person trusted by the deceased to take all of the legal steps necessary to make sure that the will is carried out. Sometimes, this person knows that they will be the executor, and sometimes it comes as a complete surprise. If you are named as an executor, know this: it is a BIG responsibility and you should consult with a probate attorney before you take any action.
The Illinois legislature has established Article VI of the Probate Act, which specifies the duties and procedures that an executor must follow when bringing an estate through probate court. To give you an idea of what is ahead, should you accept the job, here are just some of the essential duties of an executor:
- To obtain the original will. You must confirm with the testator’s attorney, or whoever informed you that you are the executor, that this is the only valid will. If there are older wills that have not been properly revoked, this can create chaos until the matter is clarified. Review the will (as well as any prior wills) with a probate attorney to make sure that it meets all of the legal requirements to withstand an attack.
- To file the will with the proper clerk in the county where the testator resided. If the executor was not an Illinois resident, then the will should be filed in the county where the testator’s property is physically located.
- To file a Petition to Probate Will with the proper probate court within thirty days of when the will was filed. This is a legal pleading that allows a court to name you as executor.
- To obtain “Letters of Office” to give you the authority to secure property and conduct necessary transactions. You will need this authority to obtain access and control over all of the testator’s assets.
- To review the will for a listing of assets and debts. You must verify the accuracy of these assets and debts. Beyond what is in the will, you must also conduct an independent search to thoroughly understand and inventory the estate, as well as discover any creditors.
- To create a comprehensive list of assets and debts. A probate attorney can help you through this very important process. It is critical to have a complete and accurate list, as reporting wrong information can erode your credibility with the court. In addition, it is important to all heirs that the estate is completely accounted for prior to distribution.
- To secure and manage assets. It is of great importance that you are fully aware of all assets, so that you can protect them. There are people who will exploit the grief and confusion surrounding a death to take assets that they believe they are entitled to. This is not how the probate process works, and it is the executor who is responsible for distributing the estate with guidance from the probate court.
- To create a complete list of people who should to be served notice of the probate case. This includes all named heirs and legatees, as well as any known, or reasonably-discoverable creditors. Further, any unknown creditors need to be served by publication in a newspaper. Proper notice is critical for the probate court to have jurisdiction over parties, and to avoid unnecessary delays.
- To obtain hearing settings, and to attend probate hearings. Court hearings can be scary and contentious. An attorney can help you tremendously in this regard.
Of course, this is just the beginning of your job. And this illustrates how important it is to contact an attorney for assistance. I can help you. Probate proceedings can be very complex and take a very long time to resolve. I have more than two decades of experience in probate law and have helped many clients from beginning to end. Call the Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas at 847-392-5893 to schedule an initial consultation or visit our website.