Handling how an estate is divided among beneficiaries can be grueling, especially when there are as many people on that list as actor John Mahoney, well known for his role as the father on 90s sitcom Frasier, left behind.
The 77-year-old died in February from brain disease, lung cancer and seizures while in hospice care in Chicago, TMZ reported. Now more than a month later, a friend of the actors has filed with a court in Cook County, Ill., to open a probate for his estate worth more than $5 million, and with a list of 38 potential beneficiaries.
See: The problems with doing your own estate planning
It wasnt immediately clear what was in his will. The Moonstruck actor was never married and had no children, but has reportedly left the money to close family and friends, according to TMZ.
So what do you do if you, like John Mahoneys friends and family, are on a long list of benefactors? First, stay up to date on the process by connecting with the administrator or attorney handling the estate, and understand the fees associated with dividing the assets.
Handling such an estate is complex for the administrator and executor, said Juan Ros, a financial adviser at Lamia Financial Group in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Because probate is state-specific, Ros said potential beneficiaries should find an estate planning and probate attorney who will know what information they are privy to. For example, in California, beneficiaries of a living trust are entitled to accounting of trust assets. Distribution of wealth may not happen right away sometimes it can take months or years, depending on the size of the estate and anything can happen in that time.
One example: Other individuals may unexpectedly claim a piece of the estate, as seen in many celebrity cases. Beneficiaries need to be proactive as much as possible, Ros said. After the musician Prince died in 2016, his sister and five half-siblings battled over his estate, which became the subject of numerous lawsuits.
Also see: Young and single? You still need a will
Are you entitled to see the will? Again, it depends on state law, but for pour over wills (which is a will that creates a trust), it also depends who the executor and trustee are. If the two roles are handled by the same person, she and the beneficiaries named in the trust get a copy of the will, but if the executor and trustee are two separate people, only they are required to see a copy, according to estate planning attorney Julie Garber. (A trustee is the individual in charge of the assets, while an executor is the one who must settle the estate.)
Before assets are distributed, an executor must have paid all debts, expenses and taxes, including funeral and burial costs. In some cases, beneficiaries may be paid nothing unless there is a state law requiring a family allowance before money is sent to creditors.
Beneficiaries may be asked to sign a letter prepared by an attorney that states they accept the assets they were given, which protects the executor in the future against claims assets were not received. Executors are also paid for their services, which could create pushback from beneficiaries. This is especially true if the beneficiaries were not periodically apprized of the work being performed and had no prior knowledge of the anticipated amount of the personal representatives fee, according to law firm White and Williams.