So you’ve been named the executor in a friend’s or family member’s will. Now what?
It can be an honor to be entrusted with such a role; however, the responsibility that comes with it can be intimidating and time-consuming.
As an executor, you’ll watch over the deceased’s assets. You’ll oversee payments to settle his or her estate and ensure that the assets are distributed according to the beneficiary designations of the will.
Below are common responsibilities that executors encounter:
- Assist with burial, cremation or funeral preparations. If the departed had any specific wishes about this, help ensure they’re carried out.
- Obtain multiple copies of the death certificate.
- Notify institutions, such as credit card companies, banks, and the Social Security office. (They’ll want a copy of the death certificate.) If direct deposit is set up for Social Security payments, notify them immediately; it’s more difficult to pay the Social Security benefits back than to stop them.
- Locate estate planning documents, including the will or trust. Decide if the will needs to be filed in probate court; this depends on the value of the assets, state laws and how the assets are titled.
- File letters of testamentary, which legally allows you to act as the executor.
- Set up a bank account for the estate to use to receive any income or pay any expenses while settling the estate.
- Locate and protect assets. Distribute assets to the proper beneficiary.
- Pay bills and taxes. File a final tax return for the deceased person and an estate tax return if necessary.
- Consult with legal, financial and tax professionals as needed to help throughout the process.
Also, keep in mind that you can – and should – act on some of these tasks before your loved one passes away. For example, know where key documents are located before you need them.
It’s easy to put things like this off; however, if you don’t know where they are and your loved one’s legal and financial contacts don’t either, it can be difficult to figure out once he or she is gone (or has become incapacitated). Taking steps like this now will minimize the number of things you must do during the first days and weeks after he or she passes.
Also, be aware that it can take several months to several years to settle an estate, especially if there are a lot of physical items to go through in a home. Therefore, avoid the temptation to rush and make sure you’re being thorough.
Just as important, those who serve in this role are expected to perform their duties with honesty, integrity and fairness.
Who Should You Choose?
When deciding who to appoint as your executor, make sure it’s someone who understands these responsibilities and is willing to take them on. (It can be difficult for a friend or family member to serve in this role while they’re still grieving the loss of that loved one.)
An effective executor:
- has good communication skills – They’ll need to converse with a multitude of institutions.
- is organized – There will be a lot of moving pieces that they’ll need to oversee.
- remains calm under pressure – They will likely encounter stressful situations while trying to settle the estate.
- has time and resources – Both of these will lessen the stress that can accompany the executor role. (For example, if travel or taking time off from work will be necessary to handle the estate, will the person you’re considering be able to do so in a timely manner?)
Whether choosing an executor or accepting an executor role, think through the decision carefully.
In addition, know that there are people you can lean on for advice. If you have questions or concerns about this topic, don’t hesitate to contact your Redwood advisor. Our team is here to help.
KELSEY BROOKS, CFP®