When a loved one passes away, the loss you feel can be overwhelming and debilitating. Focusing on anything but your grief may seem impossible; however, if you were named as the Executor of the estate the decedent was counting on you to be able to set aside your grief long enough to oversee the probate of the estate. If you have never before served as an Executor, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of administering an estate.
10 Tips for an Executor
Consulting with an experienced and qualified probate attorney right away is always a wise first step. In addition, the following 10 tips may help get you started in your role as Executor.
- Make sure you have located, reviewed, and secured all estate planning documents. This may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and/or Letter of Instruction among others. An original copy of the Will must be located in order to initiate the probate process. Because documents may interact it is crucial to locate all of them as soon as possible.
- Identify and secure major assets as soon as possible. It is your job to ensure that assets are identified, located and secured because you are ultimately responsible for them throughout the probate process. Examples of steps to take include:
- Take possession of vehicles
- Close financial accounts
- Lock up real estate and arrange for upkeep
- Speak to employees at a business and arrange for continued operations
- Create lists of estate assets and debts. To make your job as the Executor a bit easier, start making lists of assets and debts. Include as much detail as possible with each entry, including things such as account numbers, passwords, current value, and location.
- Request several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate. You will need a copy to submit to the court when you open probate, one for the funeral home, and likely copies for third parties when acting in your role as Executor.
- Consult/retain a probate attorney. Although you are not legally required to retain an attorney, doing so will help you avoid costly mistakes and possible personal liability for any errors or omissions you commit. Moreover, the estate, not the executor, will cover the cost of the attorney.
- Categorize estate assets. Some assets are classified as “non-probate” assets because they bypass probate altogether. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property.
- Start working on “date of death” values for assets. You will need to have these values later on in the process so get started now. You may need the assistance of various appraisers to obtain accurate DOD values.
- Make a list of known creditors. Ideally, known creditors should be personally notified that probate is underway. Unknown creditors must also be notified via publication in a local newspaper. These creditors will have the right to file claims against the estate. As the Executor, you will have to approve or deny those claims.
- Make a list of beneficiaries. They will also need to be notified that you are probating the estate. Beneficiaries have a right to know what is going on with the estate. Once the Will has been submitted to the probate court, it also becomes public record. You cannot, however, distribute assets to a beneficiary right away. Exactly when assets can be distributed depends on a number of factors. Consult with an attorney before releasing any assets from the estate to avoid personal liability for making a mistake.
- Research and hire professionals to assist. Along with an attorney, you may need a real estate professional, a certified public accountant, appraisers, and/or property managers.