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What to do when you’re an executor

Being an executor of someone’s Will can be quite stressful. If you were chosen to be an executor, the person who selected you probably thought you’re a responsible and trustworthy person. Your job as an executor is to take care of the deceased person’s remaining obligations, like paying bills and distributing the estate. Though stressful, being an executor means you can make sure their last wishes are granted and followed through. Here are some important steps to take when you’re an executor.

Understand estate planning

Being an executor is an important job so it may be a good idea to get a quick overview of what estate planning is and what your duties are as an executor. Will you be stuck with the deceased person’s debt if you’re the executor? Do you get paid as an executor? We have an Estate Planning guide that explains all that and more, and the entire estate planning process.

1. Hire a lawyer

If the estate is quite small and the Will is straightforward, you may find hiring a lawyer unnecessary. And if you have any concerns, you can ask a question to any of our lawyers that have experience in estate planning. Whether it’s reviewing your documents or asking a simple question about the probate process, we have estate planning lawyers that can help you along the way.

There’s always the option of hiring a lawyer to handle everything, especially if the size of the estate is relatively big and complex. Also, if there’s a possibility of a dispute among beneficiaries, you may want a lawyer that can be the mediator throughout the process.

In the end, it’s up to you if you think it’s worth hiring a lawyer full time or simply asking a lawyer a few questions here and there to make sure you’re doing everything legally.

2. Determine if probate is required

Whether the estate will go through the probate process depends on a lot of factors, such as the size of the probate and the lack of certain documents (e.g., Wills and Trusts). The whole probate process is supervised by the court. Though each state has its own process, the general process is similar. Essentially, the probate process determines if the will is valid or not. Later, they administer the estate (pay debts and collect and distribute assets) then close the estate (resolve any issues, and sign and file receipts).

3. Administer the estate

Once you’ve determined if probate is necessary or not, make sure that you’re confirmed as the executor. You can complete this Letter of Appointment of Executor to have the court formally approve you as the personal representative of the estate.

Once you’ve been confirmed as the executor, you’ll need to start administering the estate. Here are few important steps you’ll need to take:

A. Notify beneficiaries, individuals, and institutions

  • Identify the beneficiaries named in the Last Will and Testament Will, and send them a notice of the death using our Notice to Heirs document.
  • Be sure to notify institutions, like insurance companies, banks, and government agencies (e.g., the post office and the Social Security Administration).
    • You can use the Notice of Death to an Insurance Company to alert any insurance companies associated with the person who passed away.
    • When you notify their most recent employer, be sure to submit a Employee Death Benefits Letter to help ensure beneficiaries are taken care of with any employee benefits, pensions, or even life insurance policies.

You can use our Affidavit of Death to notify individuals and companies.

B. Pay expenses

You can use our Estate Administration Worksheet to organize all the assets. If you need to transfer stocks or bonds, you can use the Affidavit of Domicile as part of the process.

Hopefully, the assets are easy to locate. Once found, keep them in a secure place. If you’re going through the probate process, be sure you are safely managing the assets during the entire time. Sometimes the whole process can take up to a year. Depending on what the Will states, you may need to handle a lot of financial obligations, like even selling property.

C. Find, secure, and manage assets

  • Pay expenses, taxes, and any outstanding debt
  • Pay continuing expenses, like mortgage payments
  • Pay and file an income tax return for the year when the person died
  • Pay estate taxes, if necessary. It’s rare but some state and federal estate tax returns may be required.

D. Distribute property

As an executor, you’re given the trust of supervising the entire process. It’s especially important that you supervise the distribution of property and assets (e.g., real estate and personal items) to ensure that everything is going to the right people or organizations.

If you jointly owned property, you can complete this Affidavit of Survivorship to help you retain your full ownership of the property. Sometimes the court will only ask for a death certificate. You can request a copy of a death certificate using our Death Certificate Request Letter.

4. Close the estate

After the estate has been administered, you’ll need to file a final report with the court if you’re going through the probate process. This important step allows the beneficiaries to review the accounting and finalize any adjustments if needed. Once all matters are settled, the court will then allow the estate to be closed.

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