After a loved one has passed, one of the first steps to be taken is to determine if they have a will. If so, you will want to locate the original will and make sure it has been properly signed. Ideally, the will has a self-proving affidavit so that the witnesses to the will do not need to be present when the will goes to probate. If there is not a self-proving affidavit, someone with knowledge of the deceased’s signature would need to verify the signature. In some counties this must be done in person. The named executor will need to go to the Register of Wills with the original will, photo identification, an estimate of the assets of the estate and some method of payment to open the estate.
The Register of Wills will give the executor certificates of letters testamentary. This document authorizes the executor to handle the decedent’s estate. The executor will likely need to appear in person at the appropriate county office throughout the probate process. For this reason, it makes sense to name an executor that lives in the area. You should also be careful if selecting co-executors as they need to agree on how to proceed. The executor should identify all the assets and debts as well as beneficiaries and their contact information. Real property should be secured and maintained, including keeping up with any mortgage, homeowners insurance and taxes in the interim. The executor is also responsible for paying necessary debts, advertising for the estate, filing of necessary tax returns, and final distribution of estate. You should work with an estate attorney to make sure all requirements are met. By April M. Townsend