What Does an Executor Actually Do?

executorWhen someone has a will drawn up and notarized, detailing what will happen to all their property after their death, they will usually specify in the document who will act as the executor of the will. If the document does not specify an executor, the court will appoint one.

But what does it even mean to be the executor of someone’s will? What, exactly, does that job entail?

Essentially, the executor’s job is to make sure the will is carried out as it is written. The assumption is that the will represents the intentions of the deceased at the time of their death – or at least the last time they were sufficiently mentally fit to decide what should happen to their possessions at the time of their death. The executor is tasked with fulfilling those wishes.

File the Will

The first thing the executor needs to do is file the will in the probate court of the county where the deceased lived. If they did not live in Illinois, then the will must be filed in the probate court of the county in which the deceased’s real property (such as land, a house, condo, etc.) is located. If they did not have any real property, then it needs to be filed in the county where most of the deceased’s personal property is located.  Once the will has been filed, the probate court grants the executor the powers of executor of the will, which allows them to fulfill the rest of their responsibilities.

Notifications

The executor is also in charge of notifying the heirs and legatees of the will that the document has been filed with the probate court – the legatees (also known as beneficiaries) are those listed in the will to receive something, while the heirs are those who would inherit the estate in the absence of a will.

Conduct Inventory

Under the Illinois Probate Code, an executor has 60 days from the time they become executor to conduct an inventory of the estate. The inventory must list all the real estate, personal property, and money owned by the estate.

Defend the Will

Once the heirs and beneficiaries have been notified that a will has been filed, they have 6 months from the time the will has been filed to challenge the validity of that will.  If the court finds the will invalid, the executor would be the one to file an appeal on that decision, if they decide to do so.

Manage the Estate

Before the will can be executed (and/or while it is being contested) there may still be bills that need to be paid on behalf of the estate. For example, if any real estate is included in the will, property taxes and/or mortgage payments may need to be made before the property is transferred to the ownership of the heir or legatee. The executor will be responsible for using funds and assets from the estate to make such payments, which is why it is of the utmost importance to assign an executor who can be trusted with this responsibility.  The executor has a fiduciary duty to the estate and the heirs and legatees to maintain the estate assets until such time as they can be distributed in accordance with the decedent’s wishes.

If you haven’t yet had a will drawn up for your estate – or you want to revise an existing will – you need a law firm you can trust. We can help you draft an air-tight will to ensure all your property and assets will go where you want them to go.  If you have been named the executor of an estate, we can also help you fulfill your duties in a timely, cost-efficient manner.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for real estate cases, criminal cases, and all types of family law for more than 25 years. Our experienced divorce attorneys will take the time to really listen to your unique situation so that they can plan strategies that can best protect your best interests. 

What to Do When an Executor Fails to Carry Out the Will

carry out the willAn executor’s job is to carry out the will, meaning he or she will execute the will and handle the estate of the deceased by carrying out their wishes. This can include paying debts and taxes and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries in accordance to the instructions of the will. It is the responsibility of the of the executor to do these things in a timely manner, and act in the best interest of the beneficiaries.

But what happens if the executor isn’t doing their job? Can they be removed from their position? There are many things you should do if you find that the executor isn’t doing their job properly.

Know the Timeline to Settle an Estate

When a loved one passes away, you probably start to wonder how long it takes between the time the will is read and when you will get your inheritance. It depends on how complex the estate is, and the process can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. The executor can only disperse the assets of the estate after the property is evaluated and all the debts and taxes have been paid. The executor can be held personally liable if the inheritances are paid first and there isn’t any money left to cover debts and taxes.

Determine If You Have a Case

You should first try talking to the executor about your concerns. If that doesn’t work, you may have to take legal action.

To have an executor removed from an estate you need to be able to show that they are not living up to their responsibilities of their job or that they are doing something that isn’t legal. The court may remove an executor for the following reasons:

  • They are no longer eligible because they have been convicted of a felony after being named executor
  • They are no longer suitable because they have a conflict of interest
  • They have failed to carry out the wishes of the deceased or they haven’t done anything at all
  • They mismanage the estate by stealing from the estate or wasting assets

The executor must commit a serious infraction for the court to act. Taking a long time to settle the estate is not considered a serious infraction on its own. It must be in addition to one of the examples above. In most cases, you must wait a little longer to get your inheritance.

Seeking Legal Recourse

If you believe that the executor is not living up to their duties, you have two legal options: petition the court or file a civil lawsuit.

Beneficiaries can petition the court to have the executor removed from their positon if they can prove they should be removed for one of the reasons listed above. The court will have a hearing where the parties involved can tell their side of the story. Afterwards, the court can remove the executor and appoint another one if they find just cause.

Your other option is to file a civil lawsuit against the executor if you can prove that you have suffered due to their actions, or lack of actions. For instance, this would be an option if the executor has stolen money or failed to protect the assets of the estate. There is always a chance you will be able to settle before ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

No matter where you are in the process of settling an estate, you need to speak to a qualified estate planning attorney if you have any concerns at all. At Sherer Law Offices, our attorneys will advise you and guide you as to what to do if you find yourself in this difficult situation.

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What Is the Difference Between Joint Tenants and Tenants in Common?

Difference-Between-Joint-Tenants-Tenancy-In-CommonWhen two or more people share ownership of land or other real estate, each person owns an interest in the property. For this reason, Illinois law requires that co-owners of property make a decision about how the title of the property is held. In Illinois, a title can be held in three ways: tenancy by the entirety, tenants in common, or joint tenants with the right of survivorship. The type of title assigned to a property will define the rights and authorities of outside creditors, and it will also affect how the property is transferred upon the death of an owner.

Tenancy by the Entirety

Tenancy by the entirety in Illinois is a means of holding title that is exclusively available to married couples. One of the benefits of this type of title is that it affords extra protection to marital property against some creditors.   For example, the property under this title may not be divided, sold, or otherwise encumbered for any non-joint debts of a husband and wife without the consent of both spouses.

While there are benefits to holding title as tenants by the entirety, the guidance of an experienced attorney who concentrates in real estate and contract law is recommended to establish this form of title.

**Important: Illinois law does NOT offer an automatic tenancy by the entirety provision for married couples that share a home as joint tenants. Instead, the courts require that specific terminology be employed in the deed to create this form of tenancy.

The two more common forms of holding title are as tenants in common or as joint tenants. Here are a few important differences to remember between the two.

Tenants in Common

A title held as tenants in common is the most basic form of title. In Illinois, this form of title is considered to be the default if no other specifications of ownership are defined.

Tenants in common usually have different interests in ownership of the property. For example, Bob and Stan may own 25% each, while Steve owns 50%. Tenants in common may also acquire ownership at different times. However, these “fractional interests” do not mean that any one owner is entitled to use the property more than the others. The equal use of the property is known as unity of possession.

Tenants in common each hold independent ownership interests. This means that each owner’s share of the property may be sold, conveyed or transferred without prior permission from the other owners. Creditors may also come after one owner’s share of property for debts owed.

There is no “right of survivorship” for tenants in common. If one owner dies, his or her share of the property will be transferred according to that owner’s will or by the intestacy statute. Without a will, the owner’s heirs or beneficiaries will become the new owners of that share.

Joint Tenants

Joint tenants are different from tenants in common in the fact that they acquire equal shares of the property on the same property deed at the same time. The terms of joint tenants are stated specifically in the deed to the property.

A joint tenant agreement can be broken if one tenant sells his or her interest to someone else. This will change the ownership to tenants in common for all parties involved. Keep in mind that a tenancy in common agreement can be broken if one or more of the tenants buys out the other tenants, or if a partition action is filed with the court. A partition action allows an heir to sell his or her share.

Joint tenancy is the title that is usually held between spouses and other family members. It allows for the property to pass to the survivors of that person without having to go through probate court, saving both money and time.

Survivorship Rights

One of the biggest differences between these two tenancies is what can happen to the property when one of the owners passes away. With a joint tenancy agreement, the interest belonging to the owner that passed away usually gets transferred to the surviving owner. For instance, if three people own the house jointly, the share of the person that passed away is divided equally among the surviving tenants. That is the right of survivorship.

Things to Keep in Mind

Married couples should carefully review their title when buying a home if they want the right of survivorship to be included. If a tenant in common passes away, their entire estate, including their share of the house, must be divided according to probate court rules.

Despite the benefits of joint tenancy, there are financial aspects you need to consider. In a joint tenancy, if one of the tenants owes money, creditors are able to attach the interest of the debtor to the property and force a foreclosure. They could do this even if the other tenant had nothing to do with the debt in question.

For any real estate transaction or questions about a deed, we highly recommend that you seek the guidance of an experienced real estate attorney.

CONTACT the Law Offices of Barbara Sherer to schedule a consultation.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

Gavel and Small Model House on Wooden Table.The probate process in Illinois is a legal procedure supervised by the court that is sometimes needed after the death of a loved one. It is used to make it absolutely clear who will inherit the property of the deceased and to make sure that all of their taxes and debts are paid. The executor of the estate usually handles probate. This person must prove in court that the will of the deceased is valid. They must identify and take inventory of the assets, have the assets appraised, pay the taxes and debts, and distribute what is left as the will dictates.

Is Probate Necessary?

Whether probate is required or not really depends on what assets there are and how the deceased person held the title to those assets. The validity of the will does not necessarily influence the need for probate. Usually, a formal probate hearing is required in Illinois if the deceased person had sole ownership of assets, and if all of the assets combined are worth more than $100,000.

There are some assets that do not need to go through probate, including:

  • Assets that are held in trust,
  • Assets that are owned jointly,
  • Assets that are subject to beneficiary designation,
  • And real estate that is subject to a transfer-of-death deed in Illinois.

Affidavits for Small Estates

When the total value of an estate is less than $100,000 and does not include any real estate, a formal probate hearing is not required. Whoever inherits the estate is able to use a simple affidavit (sworn statement) to claim the inheritance.

A standard affidavit is a few pages long and all you have to do is fill in the blanks. You just need to provide the basic information about the person who passed away and state that there is no probate hearing in process and the funeral expenses have been paid in full. It must also say if there was a will. If there is a will, you must provide a copy along with your affidavit.

Formal Proceedings for Probate in Illinois

Probate cases in Illinois are handled by the Circuit Court in the county where the deceased person was living. The executor of the estate (as named in the will) is responsible initiating the probate process. If a will does not exist, someone will have to take responsibility and ask the court to appoint that person as “administrator” of the estate. The administrator will then do the same job as the executor.

To begin probate, the executor files the will with the court. If necessary, a probate case is opened by filing the appropriate documents. Generally, the executor hires a lawyer to draw up and file the proper papers. A notice about the hearing has to be sent to all the people named as heirs in the will. To inform creditors, a notice is published in the local paper.

Unless there is a problem with the will, which is a rare occurrence, the court will submit the will to probate and the person named in the will is then officially appointed as executor. The probate process gives the executor authority over assets. Most executors are granted “independent administration,” allowing actions without prior court approval. If the heirs are fighting, however, then “supervised administration” may be enforced and the executor must get court approval before any action is taken.

Debts and Assets

During probate, the executor has to take inventory of estate assets and safeguard them. It is sometimes necessary for the executor to sell some assets. The executor is responsible for taking assets or the money from the sale of assets to pay debts, such as funeral costs. The executor must also inform creditors of the probate case. The creditors have six months to file a claim. If they miss the deadline, they don’t get anything.

Tax Requirements

An estate in probate is taxable and separate from the person who passed away. The executor has to obtain a taxpayer ID number from the IRS for the estate. This is used to report income and deductions during the estate’s administration. Federal and state tax returns need to be filed for the estate.

For the year 2015, an Illinois estate tax return is due if the value of the estate is more than $4 million. A Federal estate tax might be due if the estate is valued at more than $5.43 million.

Contesting the Will

Probate cases are typically are finished in less than a year with the completion of all required paperwork. If the heirs fight about the assets, probate can take much longer and be much more costly. If a court battle erupts, it is usually over the execution of the will, confusing language in the will, claims from creditors, the executor being accused of wrongdoing, or someone claiming that the deceased person was influenced or did not have the mental faculties to write the will.

Estate Closing

In order to officially close the estate, the executor needs to file a final accounting document that shows how the assets were handled. It will list the assets, income that was generated by the estate, amounts paid for expenses and debts, any expenses paid for administration, and amounts that were distributed to heirs. The document will also show how the executor will distribute the rest of the estate property. When it is time to close the estate, the executor will submit a final report to the court and obtain receipts from the heirs who received assets.

When probate is necessary, the legal team at Sherer Law Offices can help you navigate the process and provide support if disputes arise. Plan ahead and hire an experienced probate attorney as soon as possible.

CONTACT Sherer Law Offices to schedule a legal consultation.

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