|So youíve been
named an executor of an estate, but what does that really mean? An executor
is the person in charge of someoneís affairs after they die. This can include
tasks such as making sure the deceasedís will is followed, cleaning out
and selling a home, closing accounts and keeping the peace among beneficiaries,
among many others.
Itís a complicated, time-consuming
job. But there are some ways to make it easier. Here are eight:
As an executor, you will during
the course of your work need to communicate with probate court officials,
lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and Ė of course Ė the beneficiaries
of the will. Make a point of communicating regularly and keep notes of
every communication you have with anyone involved with the administration
of the estate. Good notes will help you stay organized and also document
the work you are doing for the estate. Communicating via email is also
a great way of creating a record of what you have shared.
Get the Right Team
An executor will see some complicated
documents such as wills and trusts early in their service. Later in the
process, items may need to be appraised and sold. It can seem overwhelming,
so donít be afraid to ask for help. In fact, in most cases you really should
not undertake the process by yourself unless you are a professional who
does this day-in and day-out. An executor is often expected to consult
with an attorney, an accountant, a funeral director, a real estate agent,
an appraiser, an auctioneer, etc. When contacting these people, the executor
should remember the estate will take care of the fees charged by these
An executor has a lot to keep
up with and manage. From financial documents to death certificates and
everything in between, the paperwork can pile up quickly. That is why it
is so important to stay organized. Make a list of things that need to be
done and once they are complete, put notes and documentation in a filing
system. You may even need to spend time each week maintaining your filing
system and checking items off of the to-do list.
Think Like a Detective
An executor may receive a well-organized
file with all the information he or she needs to know about the estate.
But often, an executor needs to look through many drawers and notebooks
for the pertinent information. Look first in obvious places like desks,
file cabinets and safe deposit boxes, but donít forget that even the incoming
mail can tell you more about the estate. If you get a bank statement or
stock dividend check, you now know those accounts are out there.
Cut Unneeded Expenses Quickly
As executor, you are responsible
for protecting the assets of the estate. If unnecessary expenses keep draining
the deceasedís accounts, you are not doing your job. Even little expenses
can add up quickly. Cancel the home and cell phone of the deceased, cancel
magazine subscriptions and club memberships, cancel television service,
etc. Be cautious about eliminating Internet service, however. You may lose
access to important emails in cases where the email account is tied to
the service provider.
Do Not Distribute Assets of
Any Kind Until Debts are Paid
No matter how much you may want
to begin the process of distributing assets according to the will, creditors
must be paid first. Even if a beneficiary asks for something as small as
a painting on the wall or a nominal sum of money to help get to the next
paycheck, you cannot distribute any assets of the estate to beneficiaries
until the court directs you to do so.
Be Deliberate and Thoughtful
Generally speaking, an executor
must act in good faith. If an executor is found to not act according to
this standard there may be legal repercussions. The court often gives an
executor a good amount of time to accomplish the tasks of estate administration.
It is okay to take your time and make sure things are done correctly. Most
who are named executors had a relationship with the deceased and it is
perfectly all right to take time to grieve too.
There are a lot of competing
demands on an executor. The court will give you directions, but the interests
of creditors and beneficiaries are often at odds. Even the interests of
beneficiaries can be at odds with each other. This may all boil over to
affect you. Remember that as executor your employer, so to speak, is the
decedent. Their wishes are your guide as outlined in the will.
Being an executor can be
a tough, seemingly thankless job. But it can in many ways be simplified
by following tips such as the ones above.
Patrick OíBrien is
CEO and co-founder of executor.org,
a free, online resource that helps executors manage their
responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The tool includes a helpful step-by-step interactive
guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral
and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and
managing estate assets.