Being named the executor of someone’s estate is a bit of a mixed blessing. You may wonder if you should feel honored to be chosen, but there still may be some part of you that wonders why you were the one “lucky” enough to get the job.
In either case, this mission, if you choose to accept it, is yours. You need to get organized so you can tackle the challenge head on and do it right. If it isn’t something you believe you can take on, the court will reassign the task to someone else.
Preparing for the task
The job of an estate executor is a large and complex one, which is part of the reason why it can take a year or more to settle an estate. The best way to make any task less daunting is to get organized early. Sorting documents into folders is one way to get started. These folders should include:
- Vital records
- Legal papers: death certificates, will, trusts,
- Employee documents revealing benefits, pensions, etc
- Financial: keep separate accounts for the estate and personal accounts, statement proof of account closure, debts paid receipts
- Government: income taxes, government pensions
- Automobile: this folder should contain anything related to any automobiles the decedent owned, including related bills and auto insurance policies
- Estate management costs: you may be able to be reimbursed by the estate when you use your own money
Taking things one step at a time
If you are serving as an executor, it is important not to rush the process. While some may be anxious to get their inheritance, it is more important that the decedent’s affairs are settled correctly. When disputes happen, it only creates more delays. Developing a checklist can help. Things to consider include:
- Obtaining the death certificate
- Finding estate documents, including the will or trusts
- Consulting with an attorney and/or an accountant who is experienced with estate distribution
- Find letters of testamentary/surrogate certificates: these will prove you have the authority to use money in the estate to pay bills or open and close accounts as necessary
- Locate the assets listed in the will and create an inventory
- Determine financial obligations, including bills and taxes and make necessary payments
No matter what step you are working on at any given time, it is important that you protect your own interests as well as those of the decedent. Keeping meticulous records on all of estate related actions is crucial.
This includes recording dates you consult with the lawyer, talk to bankers, or work with other estate advisors. At some point, you could be asked about the details of the estate, and having this journal will help you to be prepared.