What are the basic responsibilities of an executor?

Having the responsibility of winding up an estate can be intimidating, particularly for those who have little experience with legal or financial matters or for those dealing with a complex estate. The executor, the person responsible for making sure the will is carried out properly, involves gather all the information for the assets and making sure they are divided up properly.

It is important, for those asked to be an executor for a person who is still living, to speak with that person before they die to get a good understanding of their wishes, identify assets and accounts, and to make sure there is a list of all security information such as safe combinations, key locations, vehicles, safety deposit boxes, and so on.

Closing an estate involves a number of tasks, but there are four major ones to keep in mind. The first is presenting the will in a probate court so that the correct people receive the estate. A death certificate will have to be presented, and the judge will have to issue Letters Testamentary, documents indicating that the person has authority to act on behalf of the estate and has been formally appointed. Certain assets, will not pass through probate. Once probate is complete, the executor will be able to perform a number of tasking, including accessing accounts and safety deposit boxes, communicating with the IRS over tax issues, and transfer titles.

The second step is to gather assets, including tangible personal property, real estate, and business asset. Businesses assets and real estate located in different states can present complications, so it is wise to have expert advice.

The third step is to pay off the estate's debts and taxes. The executor is no personally liable for any of the estate's debts unless they make a personal promise to pay them, which they never should. Prior to paying any debts, it is important to find out whether they are valid and legitimate debts of the estate.

Finally, the assets will need to be distributed to individuals as listed. If the will doesn't specify who should receive certain items, it is important to consider family relationships and individuals situations to find out who is interested in them. Once all assets have been distributed, the executor needs to go back to court to ask the judge to close out the estate.

Executors, particularly those with little experience or knowledge of the process, do well to consult professionals that can help them perform the job well.

Source: Fox Business, "Four Tips for the Executor Of an Estate," Andrea Murad, January 11, 2013.

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