Being the executor of an estate is challenging on a number of levels. Oftentimes, the executor is a family member grieving for the deceased, and part of the job is dealing with other family members who are going through their own grieving process. Needless to say, emotions can run high.
There is also the business side of the role as executor or personal representative. It can be a complicated with a well-organized estate plan, and an extremely difficult job if there are issues and disputes. Start to finish, it can take six months to a year or more. The key is to be patient. It is also helpful find an attorney with estate planning experience to guide you through the process if paperwork and finances are not your strength.
Your to-do list
Here are several items that are at the top of the list:
- Plan the funeral: You are responsible for arranging and paying for the funeral and burial arrangements.
- Get the death certificate: You also need copies of this to notify banks, insurance companies, government agencies including the Social Security Administration, investment firms and other entities.
- Find the will or trust: Whoever informed you that you are the executor will likely know where the will is if there is one. You need the will to file a petition of probate, which starts the probate process.
- File letters of testamentary: This essentially confirms your appointment as the executor.
- Locate and protect assets: The will and estate plan will likely have a list of assets to be dispersed, but there may be accounts, business interests, artwork and possessions (as well as money owed to the estate) that are not listed. Hopefully everything is in a safe deposit box.
- Pay taxes and bills: You are in charge of the estate until it is closed, so you must run it. You will need to pay income taxes and estate taxes. This may also be as straightforward as going to the house and picking up mail and paying those bills.
You need to do this right
Ideally you want everyone to be happy, but really you have to make sure everything is done right. Don’t rush through the process and do be thorough – you may be liable for any financial mistakes you make. As mentioned, an attorney can help, particularly if there are potential areas that are ripe for dispute. It is a hard process but can be ultimately rewarding, perhaps even helping you put closure on the death of your loved one.