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Charleston Probate & Trust Administration

estate planning attorney

When there is a death in the family, emotions run high. Depending on the circumstances, in addition to grief and loss, you may experience feelings of anxiety, guilt, regret, or even relief that your loved one is no longer suffering. At such a time, the logistics of arranging for a burial and funeral can be burdensome; dealing with the will, insurance policies, trusts and related legal and financial matters can be overwhelming. This is when it is a huge relief to have a capable, trusted estate planning attorney to take over the paperwork and communications with the necessary courts, financial institutions, and life insurance companies, ensuring that every document is properly filled out and every deadline is carefully met.

Legal processes after a death can take anywhere from 8 months to over a year, longer when the estate is more substantial and complex. At Wiles Law Firm, LLC, our skilled, compassionate attorneys are dedicated to using their experience and knowledge to help take some of the most weighty tasks off your shoulders while honoring the wishes of your lost loved one. We know that it is sometimes difficult to focus on practical matters at a time when your world is upended, yet we also know that protecting assets may be crucial to you and your family during your lifetimes as well as to your future descendants.

Probate Administration in Charleston, South Carolina

Probate is the legal process by which an estate is settled. It is possible to plan an estate so that all of the assets of the deceased are non-probate, in which case no South Carolina probate is required (see below). In situations in which probate is necessary, it can occur with or without a will. If there is a will, a personal representative (executor) has already been nominated to be the legal administrator of the estate during probate. Even if the decedent died without a will (intestate), a family member or friend can petition the court to appoint a personal representative who will follow state laws regarding intestacy. In the latter situation, state law, rather than the deceased’s wishes, will determine how the estate will be distributed, following a codified set of relationship rules.

The Process of Probate in Charleston

Once it is determined that probate is required, the probate court has complete jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the estate, including protection of minors and incapacitated adults,trusts, and survival action settlements of wrongful death lawsuits.

For more information you can read our infographic about the probate process

The Duties of the Personal Representative

Once the personal representative has been officially appointed by South Carolina Probate Court, he or she has a number of duties to fulfill, including to:

  • Open an estate checking account to receive funds and pay taxes
  • Have assets appraised by professionals
  • Take an inventory of all of the estate’s assets for the court
  • Decide which assets should be conserved and which should be sold
  • Evaluate creditor claims and pay all legitimate ones from estate monies
  • Notify Social Security, banks, brokers, utility, credit card companies, etc. of the death
  • File taxes -- both final income tax returns and death tax returns -- on a timely basis
  • Distribute assets to designated beneficiaries as stipulated in the will
  • Prepare an accounting for the court of income, sale of assets, debt payments, etc

It is important to note that the primary role of the executor is to protect and conserve the estate’s assets for the beneficiaries and that if he or she fails to pay estate creditors before disbursing assets to beneficiaries, the executor may be liable for those unpaid expenses. Also noteworthy, in South Carolina, the personal representative of an estate may be entitled to be paid up to 5 percent of the estate’s value for performing these services.

As a personal representative, you do not have to count as estate assets amounts that are held jointly, in payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts, or in real estate transferred by a transfer-on-death deed, or transfer-on-death brokerage accounts. In all of these cases, the money goes directly to the beneficiary as soon after the time of death as feasible.

Avoiding Probate

In cases in which all of the deceased’s assets are non-probate, that is, either held in a fully funded revocable living trust, held jointly with right of survivorship, or have a designated beneficiary, no South Carolina probate administration is required.

If the deceased had a fully funded revocable living trust, then the designated responsible party will become the successor trustee of that trust and will not have to be involved with the probate court at all.

South Carolina Trust Administration

Trust administration, like probate, is typically introduced into your life during a period of emotional pain and the familial and/or financial stress that all too often surrounds the death of a loved one. This is why it is so important to have a knowledgeable, supportive estate planning attorney at your side.

By hiring an intelligent attorney, one who is completely familiar with up-to-date estate planning laws, you give yourself an important edge as a successor trustee. When you come to Wiles Law Firm, LLC for assistance, we will remind you to bring all necessary financial records. We will assist you as the successor trustee and ensure that you fulfill your duties as a trustee with as little disturbance as possible.

The many tasks that are parts of trust administration must be undertaken with the assistance of a skilled trust attorney who will be aware, for example, that estates in South Carolina worth under $5.49 million are not expected to pay any federal estate tax. Your lawyer will keep you in the loop, reminding you that South Carolina does not have estate taxes either, but that certain assets, such as retirement funds or insurance benefits, may be taxable.

Steps Involved in Trust Administration

Like the personal representative, the trustee has a clearly defined role in helping to settle an estate. His or her duties involve the following tasks:

  • Paying any bills left by the deceased party or incurred due to the decedent’s death

  • Taking a full inventory of the estate, including determining titles and ownership
  • Having assets appraised by experts for tax purposes
  • Notifying Social Security, banks, brokers, insurance companies, etc., of the death
  • Determining estate taxes, if any, and making sure they are paid within 9 months
  • Making sure funds from all trusts are distributed according to the decedent’s wishes
  • Following the many laws and procedures to protect yourself from liability

As far as managing various trusts is concerned, an adept attorney will direct your complicated agenda, assisting you in filing all necessary paperwork in a timely fashion, and helping you to distinguish between the various types of trusts you may be charged with managing. Such trusts may include:

  • Revocable living trusts
  • Irrevocable trusts
  • Gift trusts
  • Inheritor’s trusts
  • Stand-alone retirement trusts
  • Common property trusts

Contact Our Probate and Trust Administration Lawyers Today! 

Whatever role you have in administering an estate is a significant one -- this is precisely why you need a competent attorney. Whether you are performing the duties of a personal representative winding your way through the complexities of probate, or a successor trustee navigating the waves of various types of trusts, having an astute lawyer will ensure that you maintain control and protect the estate you’ve been entrusted with. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Wiles Law Firm, LLC helps clients with their estate planning needs in Charleston, South Carolina and the surrounding areas such as West Ashley, Summerville, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and John's Island.

Information on this website is not legal advice. Further, viewing of the enclosed information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Wiles Law Firm, LLC. Matters will be handled by attorneys who primarily practice out of our office in Charleston County located at 852 Lowcountry Blvd., Ste. 101, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464. M. Emerson Wiles, III is the attorney responsible for this advertisement.

Any result Wiles Law Firm, LLC may achieve on behalf of one client in one particular matter does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients. Please contact a South Carolina estate planning attorney or one of our attorneys with Wiles Law Firm, LLC for a consultation regarding your unique estate plan.

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852 Lowcountry Blvd., Suite 101, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
| Phone: 843-718-0232

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