The will and estate plan are done, what now?

The will and estate plan are done, what now?


Life is funny. When you have an emergency, things you thought were important yesterday suddenly become trivial. I recently met with a couple facing a grim medical diagnosis. We put together a plan for their estate and a will. It was the 11th hour, but we got the work done. As I’ve said before, that is not the ideal time to work on your will or estate plan.

Planning before you are in a dire situation allows you time to really think about what you want to do with your assets and how you want to handle your finances at the end of your life. I try to make that process easy for all my clients. But once the work is done in my office, your work is not done. There is one more very important step. You should let your loved ones and beneficiaries know that you have a plan and where it is.

I have worked with families who make tough decisions about wills and executors, etc. and then they don’t want to tell their children, so they just keep it under wraps. What happens when the parents pass away? Will their loved ones know where to find the documents? If one person is designated as the executor, do they know what to do with the estate next? As the person leaving behind a well thought out plan, don’t forget to take that last step to make it easier for those left behind. There is enough serious work to be done when someone is named executor of a will, don’t make them have to search for the document itself. It’s also probably not a good idea to surprise someone with the fact that you appointed him or her executor.

When a will or estate plan is enacted after a death, it can take months or even years to settle the estate. Here are some steps that will be required of the executor of your will:

  1. Wills and estate plans are not documents filed with courts before your death. The attorney who drafted the document may have a copy, but the court will want the original document.
  2. In Tennessee, a copy of a will can be probated, but there are strict requirements.
  3. Once the will is in hand, the executor will also need a death certificate.
  4. Hiring an attorney will help you avoid costly mistakes.
  5. Once the will is probated and an executor is appointed, beneficiaries have to be named and creditors have to be notified.
  6. The deceased person’s property will have to be managed. If they owned a business, this can be very complicated and even risky for the executor.
  7. If there are sufficient probate assets and creditors have been paid, then the executor will distribute assets to the beneficiaries.
  8. Throughout the process it may be necessary to file inventories in probate court.
  9. Finally, a final tax return must be filed.

My last word of advice is this: simple is often better but remember you get what you pay for. The most expensive estate plan is the one that’s not done correctly.

Randy Ratliff is a Brentwood attorney practicing estate and elder law. He can be reached at or

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