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Very often, Wills are written many years before a person passes away. In the Will, the person names an executor for the Will. An important part of the executor’s job is to probate the Will after the person’s death. What happens if the executor is no longer living or simply decides he or she no longer wants to be executor? Based on our experience as a probate law firm, three things are likely to happen if the Will is not submitted to probate:

1. Penalties

You are not legally required to serve as someone’s executor, even if you promised to do so at one time. However, that does not mean you can just set aside a Will and ignore it. The Will must be turned-over to someone who will properly handle it so that the deceased person’s estate does not suffer damages such as late tax payments, and so the beneficiaries of the estate can be distributed their rightful inheritances.

Attorneys who specialize in Wills know the dangers of not properly handling a Will after the death, including the named executor possibly becoming the subject of a civil lawsuit by someone who believes they were financially damaged by the failure to file the Will. Most states have a requirement that a Will be filed within a certain amount of time, ranging from 30 days to three months. If a Will is not filed within the state’s time limit, there usually are consequences.

If the named executor endeavors to hide the Will for his or her financial gain, the executor may be criminally liable. Let’s say a parent left the entire estate to his or her church and left nothing to the only child. If the child decides not to file the Will, the laws of intestate succession likely allow the child to receive the estate, and the named beneficiary (the church) would get nothing. This deception would likely be interpreted as a criminal act.

2. Creditors’ Claims

Usually there are unpaid bills when a person passes away. It is the executor’s job to pay the bills to creditors who make a timely claim. Probate will limit the amount of time a creditor has to submit its claim. The executor may reject the creditor’s claim if it is not filed within the allotted amount of time.

What happens if there is more debt than assets in the estate? This is called an insolvent estate. The family of the decedent is not obligated to pay these debts, but the law sets forth a priority and method for the estate to partially pay these debts.

3. Transferring Title

Probate will allow the executor to more easily transfer title to property to the Will beneficiaries. But what happens if the estate is very small, with title to one piece of property as the only asset? The best estate attorneys suggest that there is a streamlined process in many states called “transfer by affidavit.” This may allow the executor to transfer the title without going through probate. State law dictates the maximum fair market value for property that can be transferred in this way.

If you are an executor of a Will or are in possession of an original Will, it is important to speak with an experienced Chester County probate attorney at Perna & Abracht LLC right away. Every state has its own laws regarding Wills and probate, and you need the most-current advice to avoid unintended or unexpected consequences.