Usually a person feels honored and trusted when asked to be the executor of a family member’s estate. It’s a big responsibility, since the executor will be carrying out a person’s final wishes. If you are asked to be one, it is a good idea to know some of the duties it entails before taking on the task.
An executor is the person designated to distribute a deceased person’s property that passes under his or her will and takes care of paying debts and expenses, explains WMUR in its recent article, “Settling an estate.”
When an executor isn’t willing or able to perform his or her duties, there’s usually an alternative. If no alternative has been named, the courts will approve an executor for the estate.
Being the executor of an estate can be a difficult and time-consuming task. In some instances, the deceased may have left a letter of instruction that will make the process easier. The letter may contain information such as a list of documents and their locations, contact info for attorneys, accountants, financial planners, a list of creditors, login information for important web sites and final burial wishes.
The will is usually located with these documents. The executor will need to obtain a copy, and read and understand the contents. A review of the will with an estate planning attorney is done in order to decide which type of probate is necessary. An inventory of assets owned by the deceased is then taken by the executor and may be required by the probate court. Some of the assets may need to be appraised. After probate is finished, the assets may be sold or gifted, according to the deceased’s wishes.
Asset protection is a major concern at this time. It may include changing locks on property. The executor will likely need to pay mortgages, utility bills and maintenance costs on property. He or she will need to change the name on the home and auto insurance policies, and brokerage accounts will need to be retitled.
Final expenses also need to be paid. The funeral home or coroner will provide death certificates that will be needed for various tasks in the future, such as filing life insurance claims. If the deceased was collecting Social Security for example, the agency will need to know of the death, so benefit checks can be stopped. Checks received after the death will need to be returned. A final federal and state tax return for the deceased may also need to be filed, along with an estate and gift tax return.
An executor has many duties. He or she must be honest, impartial, and financially responsible. Estate assets need to be managed properly. All of this can be made much easier with the advice and guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. Working with an attorney is the best way to be certain that there is compliance with all executor duties.
Reference: WMUR (May 24, 2018) “Settling an estate”