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Inheriting an estate: What you need to know about the process

On Behalf of | Apr 26, 2024 | Estate Planning

Inheriting an estate isn’t always a process that inspires gratitude. Sometimes, this process can be downright tough. Whether you’re dealing with the passing of a loved one or planning ahead for your own estate, understanding the steps involved can help ease the transition and better ensure that the decedent’s wishes are honored accurately and efficiently. 

The process typically begins with the will, if one exists. A will is a legal document that outlines the deceased’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the care of any dependents. If a will is in place, the estate will likely go through probate, which is a court-supervised authentication process. An executor or administrator, who may be named in the will or appointed by the court, is responsible for managing this process.

If there is no will (a situation known as dying intestate), state laws will determine how the estate is distributed. These laws vary but generally prioritize spouses, children and other family members. Navigating intestacy can be more complicated and often requires more extensive legal assistance to ensure that the estate in question is settled correctly according to state law.

When are assets distributed?

Before any distribution, the estate must settle its debts. This includes federal and state taxes, credit card debts and other liabilities. In some cases, selling estate assets to cover outstanding debts is necessary. Understanding the tax implications, including inheritance taxes and estate taxes, is important, as these can affect the value of the assets received by the heirs.

If you know that you’ll be inheriting significant assets once the estate is settled, and you need that money immediately, there are special kinds of loans extended to those set to inherit. This service exists because settling an estate can take months or years. 

Due to the complexities involved, it’s advisable to seek legal guidance when inheriting an estate. Similarly, financial advisors can assist in managing inheritance to maximize its value through effective tax planning and investment.