Resource: An executor of wills has a litany of duties and responsibilities. The successful execution of an estate depends greatly on the competency and efficiency of the assigned executor. When you are considering naming the person you would like to be responsible for your estate after you are deceased, carefully weigh the responsibilities of the job so that you can pick the best person for the job. If you do not assign someone to the position, the courts will decide for you.
- An executor will need to find and provide the court with the deceased’s will and a copy of the death certificate. The courts generally will not accept a copy of your will so if it is difficult to find your executor may have to contact the attorney that originally drafted the document. Your executor not only has to find your original will, he or she needs to read it and understand it. You can make your executor’s job a little easier by asking them beforehand to take on the job, notifying them of where your will is kept, and making your will as clear and straightforward as possible. Things can become more complicated if you have created more than one will. Make certain that you destroy the old will, including the original and any copies. In your new will you will want to explicitly revoke the old one, just in case there is a copy that you missed. Never destroy an old will without creating a new one.
- Your executor is allowed to hire an attorney for help, at the expense of the estate. Your executor doesn’t have to be a legal or financial expert, but working with someone with this expertise can be immensely helpful. An attorney can be invaluable in helping your executor through the process of probate. He or she can help the executor understand the legal process, meet all deadlines and obligations, and complete the disbursement of the estate effectively. In particular, if family members are not getting along and there could be disputes over the estate, it is highly advisable to hire legal counsel to assist the executor. The fees for any legal or financial assistance can be billed to the estate and taken from the assets that are to be distributed.
- Admit the will to probate. Your estate’s executor will have to file your will with the court. This begins the probate process. Probate can be lengthy and includes proving the validity of the will, inventorying the deceased’s estate and paying the estate’s debts. Once all expenses have been paid, the remaining assets are then distributed to the beneficiaries as instructed by the will.
- Collect and gather everything. The executor of your estate will be responsible for taking control of all your items of value such as bank accounts, retirement accounts and personal possessions.
- Manage the estate’s income. If the deceased’s estate has money owed to it in the form of loans that were issued or rental income, the executor will need to manage this income until the estate is settled. It is the responsibility of the executor to manage all incoming funds, either personally or through hired help, on behalf of the beneficiaries until the money is ready to be dispersed. Probate can take some time so the executor should be aware of his or her obligations well in advance and be capable and willing to invest the time and effort needed.
- Inventory and safeguard all items. Once all assets of the estate have been located and gathered, they will need to inventoried and appraised. It is part of the executor’s responsibility to make sure that the items that make up the estate are fairly valued prior to distribution. It also the executor’s job to protect the items that make up the estate. The executor must ensure that all items are kept in a safe place until they are ready to be distributed or sold. This may include blocking family members from taking items until probate is complete.
- Assess the estate’s financial needs and verify expenses against the estate. An estate may have outstanding debts that need to be paid. An executor is obligated to review each of those debts and ensure that they are valid. The executor must also assess any liquidity needs of the estate and move forward accordingly. If there is a minor or disabled adult that is financially dependent upon the estate, it is the executor’s job to liquidate assets as needed and finance their care until the estate has gone through probate.
- Pay taxes. As executor you will need to pay any taxes that the estate owes and file final federal and state tax returns on behalf of the estate.
- Keep strict accounting. An executor can be stuck in between warring family members and the wishes of a deceased loved one. It is very important, and legally required, to keep accounting records of everything. Your executor will need to document every appraisal, every bill paid and every penny of income generated by the estate. Careful accounting can help your estate move more smoothly through the court system and protect your executor from claims of mishandling the estate.
- Notify people of the deceased’s death. The executor will need to notify banks and credit card companies of the loved ones death. Many of these companies will require a copy of the death certificate so your executor should be prepared to provide one.
An executor’s job comes with many obligations. The good news is that an executor does not have to face these responsibilities alone. If you are an executor or are considering who to name as the executor for your estate, consider seeking help. At Dana Law Group we have years of experience working with executor’s and estates of all different sizes and minimizing the difficulties of probate. Please allow us to guide and support you through the process.