You're ahead of the curve if you've already created a will to protect your assets…
As their executor or personal representative, someone chose you because they believed you would be trustworthy to manage their assets and affairs after their passing. Even though the decedent nominated you to be their executor, you will still need to be appointed to that role by their local probate court. The role of executor is an honorable role that comes with many responsibilities. Below is an overview of what the role entails.
Get a Death Certificate
The first thing you will want to do is get original copies of death certificates. You will need a death certificate to open and close financial accounts, file the decedent’s final tax return, and more. The number of originals you will need varies depending on the complexity of the estate. Some places will accept copies, and others will require the originals. The funeral home should be able to provide the death certificates.
Find the Will
You will need to find the decedent’s original will as well as any other estate planning documents. Read the documents so that you understand what you need to do. If you need help interpreting the documents, you should consult an attorney who is experienced in estate administration and probate. You will need to file the will with the local probate court and petition the court to appoint you as the executor of the estate.
Gather and Inventory Assets
After you have been appointed as the executor by the court, you will use the documents the court gives you to create an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for the estate. You will use this number to open a bank account, so the estate can receive funds and pay bills. Other actions you may need to take include:
- Take possession of a safe deposit box and its contents
- Locate and inventory any real estate deeds, mortgages, and leases
- Appraise any real estate owned by the estate
- End any recurring expenses, such as subscriptions, memberships, or services
- Find and list all the decedent’s financial assets, including life insurance policies, retirement accounts, pensions, or social security benefits
- Determine if the decedent was the beneficiary of any other deceased person’s estate
- Collect debts owed to the estate
- Evaluate the estate’s assets and liabilities and report this information to the beneficiaries and family members
This is just a partial list of what the role of executor entails. Each estate is different; therefore, each probate process is unique.
Pay Debts and File Taxes
As the executor, you will need to pay all the debts the estate owes. You may have to reject false claims against the estate and defend the estate in court, if necessary. You will also need to file a final tax return for the decedent and pay any taxes that are owed by the decedent and the estate.
After the estate’s debts and taxes have been paid, you can distribute the remaining assets according to the instructions in the decedent’s will or trust. The decedent may have made specific bequests in their will or trust expressing that certain assets to be given to certain family members, friends, or charities.
Close the Probate Case
Throughout the probate process, you should document everything you do in your role as executor. After you have fulfilled your obligations as executor, you will petition the probate court to close out the probate process.
The probate process can be long and tedious, but resources are available, such as The American Bar Association’s Guide to Wills and Estates, that you can use to help guide you. However, you may want to hire an attorney experienced in estate administration and probate to help you with the process or handle everything for you.