It is always a challenging experience to deal with the loss of a family member or friend. When you also find yourself responsible for managing the legal aspects of their estate, the situation can become overwhelming. To avoid potential pitfalls it is prudent to seek guidance from an experienced probate attorney. To help you get started, the attorneys at Wilcox Attorneys, PA offer this Arkansas Executor Guide to Probate.
Fundamentals of Probate
Probate is the legal procedure that facilitates the administration of a deceased person’s estate. The probate process serves multiple purposes. Probate proves the authenticity of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament (if one exists), settles the decedent’s outstanding debts, and transfers the estate’s assets to its beneficiaries and/or heirs. If a Will is in place, the individual designated as the Executor in that Will is usually appointed to the role of overseeing the probate process. In cases where the decedent passed away without a Will, a family member typically steps forward to take on the responsibility of managing probate as the Personal Representative (PR) of the estate.
Arkansas Executor Guide
Probate can range from a straightforward and uncomplicated process to one that is complex and contentious. Although it is not mandatory to work with an attorney when navigating the probate process, seeking legal counsel is a wise choice. Working with an attorney will prevent significant and costly errors. Because each estate is unique, the probate process will be distinct for each case. Nonetheless, these steps and general guidelines that should help if you are the Executor of an estate in Arkansas:
- Locate and review estate planning documents. Identify and review all pertinent estate planning documents. Common documents to search for include the original (with ink signature) Last Will and Testament, trust agreements, life insurance policies, retirement plan documents, property deeds, and documents related to funeral arrangements.
- Categorize and value assets. The Executor should gather all assets and categorize and value them in order to choose the right type of probate. In addition to formal probate, Arkansas offers an alternative procedure for handling smaller estates. If the value of the probate estate does not exceed $100,000, excluding the homestead and other allowances, it may qualify as a Small Estate. Always check to see if the estate qualifies for the use of a Small Estate Affidavit in lieu of formal probate.
- Get probate started. The Executor or Personal Representative must file a petition with the appropriate court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death. The original Will (if applicable) and a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate must also be filed in the Probate case. The court will then issue an order appointing you as the Executor/PR of the estate or set a hearing at which you will be appointed. An experienced Probate Attorney can and should prepare all of the documents.
- Secure assets. The Executor must make sure that all estate assets are secured. This might include taking physical control of assets or just closing out financial accounts.
- Identify and notify beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors. Beneficiaries are named in the decedent’s Will. Heirs are people who would inherit from the estate under the Arkansas intestate succession laws. Notice must be sent to all known beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors of the estate and you must publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper. Both notices have specific statutory requirements.
- Get DOD values. Every estate asset must be valued as of the date of death. For some assets, such as real property, vehicles, and collectibles, a professional appraisal is usually required.
- Review and pay creditor claims. Creditors typically have six months from the original date of publication to file a claim against the estate. The Executor must approve or deny each claim. All approved claims must be paid before any assets can be distributed to heirs or beneficiaries. Additionally, any estate taxes and expenses must also be paid before assets are distributed.
- Transfer assets. An attorney will prepare all legal documents necessary to transfer the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries or heirs of the estate. The judge must approve all distributions.
Do You Need Assistance Probating an Estate in Arkansas?
For additional information, sign up for one of our FREE estate planning webinars. If you need assistance probating an estate in Arkansas, contact the experienced attorneys at Wilcox Attorneys, PA. Call 479-443-0062 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your appointment. We serve all of Northwest Arkansas including Washington, Benton, Carrol, and Madison Counties.
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