CNMI Probate: 12 things an executor should do


Probate is no one’s idea of a good time. After all, probate is only necessary when someone you care about has passed away. But taking care of it right away eliminates plenty of the problems that tend to metastasize over years and decades of delay.

The key person in this process is the executor (if there was a will) or the administrator (if there was no will). Normally the executor will be named in the will and asked to carry out the deceased person’s final wishes. It’s an honor. But it also comes with a variety of duties. Below are 10 common ones.

First, secure the deceased person’s estate. For example, you may need to house sit or hire someone to do so because criminals often target the homes of people who have recently passed away. And don’t forget family and friends: It’s not unprecedented for them to stop by the house and help themselves to items that they don’t have the right to take. After that, you’ll need collect mail, arrange for yard maintenance, and cancel subscriptions such as phone, internet, cable, utilities, and so on.

Second, get several copies of the deceased person’s death certificate from the hospital. You’ll need them for a variety of tasks, including to start the probate, change ownership of joint accounts, and receive date-of-death values for the deceased person’s investments.

Third, obtain a copy of the will. Then notify the listed beneficiaries of the deceased person’s passing. And don’t forget to tell close relatives that the will designated you as the executor.

Fourth, notify the Social Security Administration of the death. But before doing so, check with the funeral home because they sometimes take care of this notification.

Fifth, create an inventory of the estate’s assets and debts. The ease (or difficulty) of this process will depend on the size of the estate and the quality of the deceased person’s recordkeeping. If the estate is small and the records clear, then the process will be simple. But if the estate is large and the records sporadic, then expect to expend a good deal of time playing detective.

Sixth, once you know the estate’s debts, notify creditors of the death. Often such notification will halt the debt from accruing further interest. It will also help you verify the final balance.

Seventh, if the deceased person has a life-insurance policy, retirement accounts, or other investment accounts, then contact those institutions and arrange for payouts. When doing so, coordinate with the beneficiaries under those plans because often the money will go directly to a named individual (such as a spouse, child, or charity) rather than to the estate.

Eighth, set up a bank account in the estate’s name. And then use that account to pay bills and collect any income generated by the estate’s assets.

Ninth, evaluate which assets must go through probate and then work with an attorney to begin the process. Don’t just assume that the asset will need to go through probate because some assets can bypass probate. For example, life-insurance payouts and the money in a deceased person’s retirement accounts will get distributed according to the beneficiary-designation forms filled out when the accounts were created, not according to the will.

Tenth, pay the estate’s taxes (if any). These taxes can come in two forms: Estate tax and income tax. Few estates need to worry about the estate tax. In 2020, for example, only estates valued at more than $11.58 million were subject to the estate tax. But many more estates need to think about income tax because it applies if one of the estate’s beneficiaries is a nonresident alien or if the estate generated gross income of $600 or more. So, for instance, if the estate has rental property, then the estate will likely need to file a tax return.

Eleventh, pay debts and distribute assets. These payments will follow the directions of the probate court, which will issue one or more decrees of distribution memorializing who is entitled to what and how much.

Finally, once all debts have been paid and assets distributed, close the estate and celebrate the end of a job well done.

Hopefully this checklist helps. But it’s not exhaustive. Other items may be necessary depending on your particular circumstances. So, in addition to keeping in mind the items listed above, also consider speaking with an experienced attorney about your situation.

This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be taken as legal advice. For your specific case, consult a lawyer.

Jordan Sundell | Author
Jordan Sundell is a lawyer. His practice primarily focuses on business, real estate, estate planning, and asset protection. You can find his columns here every other Tuesday as well as on The Fine Print on Facebook. You can contact Mr. Sundell via this newspaper at or 235-6397/235-2440.
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