In the United States, assets left to a spouse or any qualified charity are not subject to U.S. Federal estate tax. Assets left to any other heir, including the decedent's children, may be taxed if that portion of the estate has a value in excess of the estate tax exemption. As of 2018, the federal estate tax exemption was $11,180,000. For a married couple, the combined exemption is $22,360,000.
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Will contests are concerned only with external validity, such as failure of due execution, fraud, mistake, undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, or lack of intent that the instrument be a will. Issues of internal validity, such as violation of the Rule against Perpetuities, must be raised in proceedings at a later stage of administration. Although a will has been probated as a genuine expression of the testator's intended distribution of property upon her or his death, the estate might be disposed of according to the laws of descent and distribution if the testamentary provisions violate the law.
Your executor must find, secure, and manage your assets during the probate process, which commonly takes a few months to a year. Depending on the contents of your will, and on the amount of your debts, the executor may have to decide whether or not to sell your real estate, securities, or other property. For example, if your will makes a number of cash bequests but your estate consists mostly of valuable artwork, your collection might have to be appraised and sold to produce cash. Or, if you have many outstanding debts, your executor might have to sell some of your property to pay them.
An agreement among heirs and beneficiaries not to contest a will is a way to avoid a costly will contest proceeding. The heirs and beneficiaries negotiate a settlement that may defeat the intention of the testator in how the assets are distributed. A settlement will be valid if all interested parties agree, but it must not exclude anyone entitled to property under the will. Under some statutes the compromise or settlement must be submitted to the probate court for approval.
The persons who are actually given the job of dealing with the deceased's assets are called "personal representatives" or "PRs". If the deceased left a valid will, the PRs are the "executors" appointed by the will—"I appoint X and Y to be my executors etc." If there is no will or if the will does not contain a valid appointment of executors (for example if they are all dead) then the PRs are called "administrators". So, executors obtain a grant of probate that permits them to deal with the estate and administrators obtain a grant of administration that lets them do the same. Apart from that distinction, the function of executors and administrators is exactly the same.
Procrastination is the biggest enemy of estate planning. While none of us likes to think about dying, improper or no planning can lead to family disputes, assets getting into the wrong hands, long court litigation, and excess money paid in estate taxes. So pick a time to get started. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”