Probate / Trust Administration
The Bell Law Firm, PA assists trustees, executors, guardians or other fiduciaries in navigating their duties and responsibilities during a trust administration or a probate proceeding. We work with the fiduciary to minimize the personal liability that can result from an honest mistake during the administration of a trust or estate. Our systematic approach with trust administration and probating an estate provides the fiduciary peace of mind as they complete their duties.
Trust administration actually begins at the time a trust is created and funded, and then it will continue until the trust terminates. The trust will typically terminate either by the express terms of the trust or upon distribution of all the trust assets to the beneficiaries. The trust must be properly administered, both while the trustmaker is living and after the trustmaker has passed away, to accomplish the objectives of the trust. The most common challenge during lifetime is the failure of the trustmaker to properly fund their assets into the trust. The Bell Law Firm, PA works closely with our estate planning and asset protection clients to complete this process during their lifetime. In addition, our ongoing maintenance programs provide our clients an incentive for keeping their trusts properly funded and maintained.
Upon death, or mental disability, the successor trustee becomes legally obligated to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and in accordance with the terms of the trust. The trustee has a “fiduciary” duty and must adhere to the standard of care provided under the respective state laws. If an individual is serving as trustee, then they should become familiar with the duties and obligations required by law. In addition, a trustee who breaches their fiduciary obligations may be held personally liable for any loss or injury occurring to the beneficiaries (both now and in the future). The Bell Law Firm, PA will provide trustees guidance on their role as trustee, will provide a systematic way for the trustee to offload their responsibilities for proper execution and we will proactively work with a team of professionals to be sure the objectives of the trust are accomplished.
Trust administration may often include the following items, but it is not limited to these items:
- Review of the trust, pour over will and other documents to ensure any tax requirements or other time sensitive items are completed
- Complete all probate filings needed and posting any required notices to creditors, publications and other key groups
- Preparation of an inventory of trust property, any of the decedent’s property passing outside of the trust and any property that will transfer by will in probate
- Procuring date of death values, arranging appraisals and valuations
- Compiling a list of all debts at the time of death, and notifying known creditors
- Prudent management and protection of property, including the maintenance and insurance of the property
- Payment of debts, trust expenses and other estate costs
- Coordinating the preparation of tax returns either with an accountant team member, or with other tax professionals, as needed for the trust
- Preparation of deeds for real property transfer consistent with the trust distribution plans and guidance
- Allocation of assets to subtrusts, and the eventual transfer of property to subtrusts as provided with the trust distribution terms
- Making trust distributions to beneficiaries and providing reports and communication with the trustee and beneficiaries throughout the process
Probate is the court supervised process by which an estate is divided among the proper beneficiaries. Probate can be a component of a trust administration, as the probate process will be required for any assets which are not properly funded to the trust while the trustmaker was living. If the decedent did not have a trust, then probate becomes the primary process used in settling the estate of the decedent. Some assets will pass to beneficiaries outside of probate (i.e. insurance and qualified retirement assets).
We will work with clients in Missouri and Kansas probate cases, and we will support the client from the initial filing of the will through the final order of the probate court closing the estate. Probate can take many forms ranging from one of the streamlined probate processes for smaller estates to the more complex supervised probate case, which can be lengthy and costly to the estate. In addition, often times the decedent does not have a valid will, so the probate process can include filing an intestate case with the probate court and establishing an administrator to settle the estate with a distribution defined by the intestate laws of the respective state.
Some of the common items included with a probate case include the following, but it is not limited to these items:
- Counseling the family on the requirements of the probate process
- Preparing and filing the initial probate pleadings for the decedent’s case
- Posting notices to publications and notifying known creditors of the decedent for the court-appointed executor or administrator
- Preparation of an inventory of the estate assets including a valuation and appraisal of assets as needed
- Assisting the executor to secure all property, and properly protect the property until the estate is closed by the court
- Payment of all debts and prudent management of estate expenses
- Handling the resolution of claim disputes for the estate
- Providing a final accounting of the estate for the probate court
- Where necessary, proceeding with probate litigation or defense of the estate against claims on the estate
- Coordinating the preparation of tax returns either with an accountant team member, or with other tax professionals, as needed for the estate
- Finalizing the actual distribution of the estate after the final ruling of the probate court
- The Bell Law Firm, PA provides a systematic way to support the executor or administrator in finalizing the probate case with the court.