My Loved One Just Died and I’m Named as Executor . . . Now What?

Losing a loved one is difficult enough, but losing a loved one and being faced with the responsibility of serving as executor of his or her estate can be extremely overwhelming. If you find yourself in this situation, or if you know someone has named you as his or her executor, it helps to have a good understanding of just what that means.

Contrary to popular belief, once someone has died, in most situations there is no reason to rush to the courthouse to record the will and qualify as executor, nor is there a specific deadline to do so. The first priority is typically to make funeral and burial arrangements and see them through.  Next, take some time to gather information about the decedent’s assets and debts.  Where did he or she have bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance, and real property?  How were those assets titled?  Were there beneficiaries named?  Any asset in the sole name of the decedent and for which there was no beneficiary named will pass through the decedent’s probate estate.  The court is interested only in those assets passing through the probate estate, and not in assets that will pass directly to a joint owner or to a named beneficiary.

Once you have a good understanding of the decedent’s assets, consult with an experienced trusts and estates attorney. Depending on how much will be passing through the probate estate, the attorney may recommend that you simply record the original will in court without qualifying as executor. Often if the total value of the probate estate is below $50,000, there is no reason for an executor to qualify – and to take on the responsibilities (including the filing of an inventory and accounting(s)) and liabilities associated with serving as executor.  There are other ways to close out what’s considered a “small estate” without going through the full probate process.

If there are insufficient assets to cover the decedent’s outstanding debts, the estate is considered “insolvent,” and debts must be paid in a specific order as prescribed by the Virginia Code. It is extremely important that the executor pay debts in this order as opposed to paying debts as he or she sees fit, because the executor can be held personally liable for debts of the decedent if he or she fails to follow that order.

On occasion, I will meet with an individual who has already qualified as executor unnecessarily, usually because the value of the estate he reported to the court includes the value of a retirement account or life insurance policy which names beneficiaries. The steps we then must take in order to relieve the executor from going through the involved, often lengthy probate process are more complicated than if the executor had spoken with us before qualifying.

If a loved one has named you as executor of his or her will, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort and expense by seeking the advice of an experienced attorney before qualifying as executor in court.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Learning From Dogs

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about dogs being used in medical research which can actually help humans?

Kit Kat:  Yes, there is some ground-breaking information on this topic. Here’s the latest. It turns out that dogs make excellent research subjects for scientists who want to locate the precise gene which is responsible for controlling the development of specific diseases. While humans have approximately 1 million genetic markers, dogs only have 170,000. That sure reduces the amount of what sometimes ends up being random testing. Scientists came to this conclusion back in 1999 when Emmanuel Mignot of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine was able to isolate the gene responsible for narcolepsy in Doberman pinscher puppies. Dobermans are prone to narcolepsy. That finding led to identifying the gene in humans.

There are other examples where different dog breeds have higher than normal ratios of specific diseases. Cancer is more prevalent in golden retrievers, epilepsy in beagles, and autoimmune disorders in Siberian huskies. As this realization has grown, new grants from prestigious institutions such as the National Institutes of Health are becoming available. While some scoff at the idea, others say it is no more unreasonable than using mice, heretofore the standard animal used to further research for humans.

Also, scientists are beginning to tap the huge reservoir of household canines for information collection. The estimated number of pet dogs in the United States is 77.8 million! Elinor Karkson of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard says they are an “…incredible resource for science.” No one knows their dog better than its owner. Their insights and record collection are building a bank of data that will be used in medical research. The Broad Institute has invited dog owners to participate in an online survey of 10 questions since October 2015 called Darwin’s Dogs. By June 2016, dog owners had answered more than 616,000 questions, and volunteered almost 7,000 pets as available for DNA sampling. It’s a win for everybody! Stay tuned as we learn more from out canine friends. ( (8-29-16)

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