If you recently lost a family member, there are several decisions you must make—especially when you are named as the executor of their will. Now, not only are you mourning a loved one’s death, but you are likely facing a complex new legal experience.
In this blog post, our Fort Smith legal team addresses the particulars associated with executing an estate in Arkansas, including how to receive appointments, understanding probate, navigating unique situations, and tips to help you avoid common pitfalls along the way.
What it Means to Execute an Estate in Arkansas
Executing an estate in Arkansas means distributing a deceased person’s property upon their death. The person responsible for distributing property is known as the executor. An executor is usually named by the person who died (also known as the decedent) in their last will and testament.
The executor of an estate must oversee a court process called probate, which entails the following activities:
- Listing assets
- Paying estate taxes
- Paying estate debts
- Selling estate property
- Distributing estate assets to heirs
- Providing a final accounting
- Other duties as necessary
How to Petition the Court as the Executor
Even if you were named as the executor in the will, you must still seek an appointment from a probate court, generally located in the decedent’s county of death. For example, if the individual died in Fort Smith, the executor should seek an appointment from the Sebastian County Circuit Court via a petition. Seeking an appointment is more or less a formality of the court and public record unless someone questions your ability to handle the associated responsibilities.
Here are the forms you will need to complete to initiate the process. Click the links below to download the forms:
- Form 1: Demand for Notice of Proceedings for Probate of Will or Appointment of Personal Representative
- Form 2: Petition for Appointment of Administrator/Administratrix
- Form 3: Petition for Probate of Will and Appointment of Personal Representative
- Form 4: Proof of Will
After completing these forms, send conformed court copies (exact copies filed by a clerk with an official stamp) to all known heirs. You should receive a court order within 30 to 90 days after the filing.
A named executor can begin acting on behalf of the state by submitting Form 12: Notice of Appointment as Administrator/Administratrix. Following through on the proper notification procedures gives you authority to open an estate bank account, liquidate property, pay debts, and distribute assets.
Tips for Seeking Executor Appointment in Arkansas
Complete these forms as honestly and accurately as you can while attaching supplementary documentation as requested. By accepting an executor’s duties, you are receiving a serious fiduciary responsibility toward the state. Essentially, you are now tasked with making decisions that are in the estate’s best interests.
If someone can prove that you intentionally or unintentionally committed acts that violate this duty, you could be personally liable for all financial damages associated with a breach of contract. For this reason, securing experienced legal representation from a probate lawyer is vital to your peace of mind and ability to execute the estate legally and ethically.
What if the Decedent Left a Living Trust?
A probate court judge will appoint an executor to close out an estate during the probate process. However, if the deceased person created a valid living trust before their death, the estate avoids probate altogether.
The duties of a living trust differ significantly from those of a will executor. Trust executors, also known as trustees, manage the trust’s assets, properties, and funds following Arkansas law and the decedent’s wishes. Trustees are required by law to manage trust assets responsibly, much like the executor of a will.
If you are named a successor trustee, you will not have any legal obligations until the trustee dies or becomes incapacitated. If this happens, you must follow through on carrying out the decedent’s final wishes as specified; otherwise, interested parties could file a breach of contract or other civil cases against you.
What Else Should an Executor Know?
The roles and responsibilities of an estate’s executor depend on several factors. Here are a few other things that executors should know about executing an estate in Arkansas:
Executors Cannot Change the Decedent’s Will
The executor is unable to change the terms of the will. You have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of beneficiaries and the estate while distributing assets according to the decedent’s final wishes.
Executors Get Paid a Reasonable Fee
An executor holds a fiduciary responsibility toward the estate’s beneficiaries and cannot be one of them. The executor fee is the only benefit for serving in this capacity. While the estate pays executor fees, executors receive compensation for their time and effort as determined by the court.
Executors Only Receive an Inheritance if Named
The executor may receive an inheritance on top of the executor fees if they are also a named beneficiary of the will. Otherwise, you cannot take any money from the estate as an inheritance.
Executors Can Get Legal Advice
There are several other vital elements you will want to consider as an estate executor. It can quickly become an overwhelming process. Keep in mind that legal advice is usually just a phone call away to help you handle the stress and legal decision-making aspects of your executor duties.
Schedule a Consultation with Milligan Law Offices
Estate executors in Arkansas can get help managing their duties by hiring a probate attorney. The legal team at Milligan Law Offices in Fort Smith represents families during their time of need. To schedule a meeting with our office, call (479) 783-2213 or send us an online message.