Settling a probate estate in Santa Barbara County requires quite a bit of time and a lot of organization. It has the potential to be a long, drawn-out process depending on the state of affairs of the deceased and how easy it is to work with the probate court. However, if you're well-equipped and prepared to deal with the role and duties of an Executor, you may be able to settle the estate in a timely, uncomplicated manner. Our Santa Barbara County probate attorneys have put together these 5 steps for settling a probate estate.
The Last Will and Testament is the first document that comes to mind when a person passes away and an Executor needs to start handling the estate, but it's not the only one. Deeds, bank statements, insurance policies, and any other documentation relating to personal or business finances need to be located. In addition, numerous documents and forms must be filed with the probate court in order to get the probate process started.
Notify the Proper Agencies
It is the Executor's responsibility to notify any agencies the deceased had dealings with at the time of death, including banks, utility companies, or any other business where the deceased had an account. In addition, government agencies such as Social Security, Medi-Cal, and the VA need to be notified if the deceased was receiving benefits at the time of death.
Create an Inventory and Have Property Appraised
In most cases, the probate court will require a thorough inventory of the deceased's assets and property. This is for numerous reasons, including estate tax purposes and beneficiary designations. It may also be necessary to have some property appraised, especially if it is collectible. This includes automobiles, art, jewelry, antiques, and even items such as baseball cards or comic books.
Collect Debts and Pay Bills
As we talk about below, one of the Executor's duties is to make distributions to beneficiaries. Before this can happen, the assets in the estate must be fully accounted for, and this includes debts owed to and by the estate. Pay any bills owed by the estate but also seek out any money that may be owed to the estate in order to begin making the correct distributions to beneficiaries.
Make Distributions to Beneficiaries
The Last Will and Testament will direct how distributions should be made to beneficiaries, but it is the responsibility of the Executor to make those distributions. All distributions must first be approved by the probate court in order to ensure that all debts have been paid by the estate before beneficiaries receive assets. This is a complicated step and may require the help of a Santa Barbara County probate lawyer.
If you are an Executor and need help settling an estate, or if you would like to know how you can possibly avoid the probate process through the use of a Revocable Living Trust, please give our Santa Barbara County probate law firm a call at (805) 946-1550 to set up a consultation.