Probate & Estate Settlement

There are many tasks to handle when a close relative or friend has died.  First among them are making the funeral or memorial arrangements and protecting the decedent’s property from immediate loss or theft.  After the mourners have returned home, you may also begin to worry about winding up the decedent’s final affairs, paying his or her final bills and distributing his or her property to the intended beneficiaries. 

While it is certainly best to begin the settlement process promptly, you may make costly errors if you try to do things too quickly.  No matter how well-intended your actions, you may find yourself dealing with upset co-fiduciaries or beneficiaries, additional taxes and administration costs, and perhaps even personal liability, unless you follow the correct procedures.  Fortunately, our experienced attorneys, paralegals, trust administrators and other professional staff will be glad to assist you with the prompt, efficient and proper settlement of the estate.

Before anyone qualifies as executor or does anything with the decedent’s property,  contact us to schedule a time to discuss the settlement process with one of our attorneys.

What to Expect

  • Our meeting will be more productive if you are able to bring as many of the documents listed below as possible with you.  Please do not be concerned, however, if you cannot bring everything or make copies beforehand. 
    • Several original death certificates (if available);
    • The decedent’s original will, codicils, trust agreements, trust amendments and powers of attorney;
    • Information regarding the decedent’s employment benefits, including retirement plans and group life insurance policies;
    • Deeds to real estate owned individually or jointly by the decedent;
    • Title to vehicles owned individually or jointly by the decedent;
    • Recent statements for all bank and brokerage accounts owned individually or jointly by the decedent;
    • Insurance policy binders;
    • Trust agreements naming the decedent as a current beneficiary;
    • Previously filed gift tax returns;
    • Personal income tax returns for the previous three years;
    • Financial statements and income tax returns for the last five years for each business, farm, partnership, etc. in which the decedent owned an interest, as well as all partnership agreements, buy-sell agreements, and other relevant documents;
    • Property settlement agreements, divorce decrees, separation agreements from prior marriages; and
    • Premarital and marital agreements.
  • You should plan for the initial meeting to last two to three hours.  If there will be more than one fiduciary serving as executor or trustee, we encourage all of them attend the meeting, but this is not strictly necessary.  For large estates, it may also be helpful to have the decedent’s personal tax return preparer attend, but once again, this is not required.  However, we do not recommend that any other family members or beneficiaries participate.  If you believe it would be helpful to include them in the meeting, please be sure to let us know when you make your appointment.
  • At the initial meeting, we will review the decedent’s known testamentary documents, assets and debts with you before developing a plan for their orderly administration and assigning responsibility for initial tasks. 
  • After the meeting, we will provide you with a summary of important dates and other relevant information.  If you will be qualifying as executor or administrator of the estate, we will also assist you in scheduling the appointment with the Clerk’s Office.  Many clients ask us to accompany them to this qualification meeting, but our presence is not required.
  • Once you have qualified (if needed), we will assist you with valuing the decedent’s property as of the date of death, retitling them as appropriate, paying final bills and administration expenses, preparing and filing any required inventories and accountings with the proper parties, coordinating with the decedent’s personal tax return preparer to file the decedent’s final individual income tax returns, preparing and filing all required tax returns for the decedent’s estate and/or trust and, lastly, distributing the remaining estate to the intended beneficiaries.
  • Until the estate assets are available, you may pay the funeral home invoice and any other expenses necessary to protect the decedent’s property from your own personal funds.  Once the settlement process is underway, you may seek reimbursement from the estate by submitting your original receipts and a copy of the cancelled checks.

As you might imagine, settling an estate is a labor-intensive process, and unexpected developments often add complexity beyond what was anticipated at the initial meeting.  It is therefore difficult to predict with accuracy how long the process will take or how much it will cost.  The time and expense involved in settling your decedent’s estate will depend on many factors, including its size and complexity, the nature of the decedent’s assets and debts, the local probate court’s rules and schedule, the amount of cooperation between the fiduciaries and beneficiaries, the degree to which you are able and willing to handle certain assigned tasks yourself and your promptness in responding to our requests and directions.  We should be able to give you at least a general idea of the expected timeframe and fees at the initial meeting based on the information available at that time.



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| Phone: 804-565-2300

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