When someone passes away, there are many things to handle at once. Of course it is a time of grief, sadness, uncertainty, and confusion — but it is also a time when legal matters will need to be resolved. No matter what anyone may tell you, you will probably need the services of a lawyer. You can turn to your family lawyer or an attorney who has familiarity with probate and estate matters. Don’t worry – it is not too complicated or complex – most estates are simple and the fees minimal. But by all means, do hire a lawyer to assist you with the formalities and to avoid any complexities.
In the meantime, here are some things you will need to know…
The Vocabulary for Estate Probate
When a family member, loved one, or even a friend passes away, you may be confronted with becoming the “personal representative of ‘the Estate’.” This phrase has a special meaning to lawyers and the courts. If you are involved in probate, here are a few more terms you may need to know:
- Decedent – A person who has died
- Estate – What the decedent owned, property of all kinds and types
- Executor – The personal representative, if the person died with a Will (Executrix, if female)
- Administrator – The personal representative if the person died without a Will (Administratrix, if female)
The Cost of Probate
The high cost of probate is a common misconception. You pay two filing fees:
- One filing fee to the District Court (which has jurisdiction over probate matters)
- One fee to the County Court to record the Will (if there is one)
In Kentucky, at the time this was written, the two filing fees — combined — rarely exceed $120.00. Your lawyer’s fee should be discussed with him/her at the time you retain their services. And, you should remember that the lawyer’s bill for services is an estate expense, it is not your personal expense!
Step-by-Step Through Probate
- The Petition – With your lawyer’s help, you will prepare and file the original petition to open the estate.
- The Order – This order (signed by a judge) will admit the will to probate (if there is a will) or will appoint the administrator (if there is no will).
- A Security Document – A security document may be required by the court (within sixty (60) days of appointment), which is a specific inventory which lists each and every asset and its approximate Fair Market Value.
- A List of Debts – You will also put together a list of debts owed by the estate to be paid by the estate. The personal representative is not personally liable for any of the decedent’s debts.
- Taxes – You may also have to file one or more federal and state income tax returns, but your lawyer can best advise you on these matters. Unless the estate is huge, it will not owe any federal Estate tax. Unless the decedent’s beneficiaries fall outside of certain protected classes, the estate won’t have to file any Kentucky Inheritance taxes.
Probate Without a Will
If the decedent left no will, he/she is said to have died “intestate.” If there was a will, they are deemed to be “testate.” If the decedent died intestate, Kentucky has a specific statute which sets forth the order and precedence in which related persons inherit. Again, consult your lawyer.
Settling the Estate
An estate cannot be finally settled until six (6) months have elapsed from the date the personal representative was appointed. This is to allow for the filing of creditors’ claims. When it becomes appropriate, as determined by you and your lawyer, you will prepare and file a document titled “Final Settlement of the Estate of ……….” which sets forth for the court all of the financial matters dealt with in the handling of the estate.
Assuming the probate judge accepts this document he will enter an order accepting it, relieving you of all further responsibilities in connection with the estate, and closing the estate.
If you need the assistance of an experienced Estate Attorney in Central Kentucky, call us: 859-236-8888.