Posted on: 18 July 2017Share
Someone that you care about has named you the executor of their estate in their will. Now what do you do? While it's often an attorney or financial advisor who steps in as executor, some people prefer to name a trusted family member or loved one. But if you're the person who finds themselves in this role with no training in probate matters, you may be struggling with what to do first. Take a look at some of the primary responsibilities of an estate executor.
Obtain Letters Testamentary From the Court
Even if you're named as executor in the will, you aren't officially the executor until a court says you are. If you're handling an estate that needs to go through probate, you have to go through the process of obtaining letters testamentary from the probate court. These letters give you the legal authority that you'll need to handle the estate — authority to open or close bank accounts and pay bills, for example.
The process of getting these letters isn't too difficult. You'll need to fill out an application, which you can do at the same time that you submit the will to the probate court. You'll need to affirm that you are the person named to be the executor of the will and provide an estimation of the value of the estate. You'll also need to meet any qualifications set by your state. The state may disqualify some individuals from serving as executors, such as those who have felony convictions or those who have been deemed not mentally competent.
Make sure you consult with a probate attorney so that everything goes more smoothly.
Inventory The Assets
In an ideal world, your deceased loved one will have left a safe or safety deposit box with documentation on all of their property, investments, bank accounts, business interests, and any other assets they may have. This documentation would ideally include the value of each item.
In real life, things often aren't that tidy. Your loved one's lawyer probably did help them make an inventory if they had a substantial estate, but if it's been several years, that information could be out of date. It will be up to you to find and identify all of the deceased person's funds assets, figure out what it amounts to, what must be used to pay bills and creditors, and who inherits what. This can be a big job.
Pay the Bills
Death doesn't stop creditors. Your loved one will have bills that need to be settled before any inheritance can be disbursed, and it will be your job to deal with them. You'll need to open a bank account in the name of the estate, and you can use that to pay off the mortgage, settle credit card debts and loan balances, and pay taxes, as well as accept any incoming money. People who stand to inherit from the estate are usually not required to pay off debts (except in certain cases — for example, a spouse or family member who inherits a house will also take over the mortgage payments) but creditors and taxes do need to be paid first.
If it turns out that there isn't enough money in the estate to pay all the bills, some property may need to be liquidated to cover them. If there still isn't enough, then the court will prioritize the debts and you'll pay however many the estate can afford, in order of priority. You'll also be responsible for filing the final tax return for the deceased person.
Settling an estate takes time and can be very complex. Don't try to rush, and be sure to reach out for help if you need it. An experienced probate attorney in your area can help you handle your executor's duties properly.