Being named the executor of an estate, for many people, is an overwhelming thing to take on. But it doesn't have to be. While there are a good many steps to the process and potential difficulties along the way, preparing ahead of time and having professionals to consult can make things a lot easier.
Among the tasks one will take on in the process is to obtain the deceased person's death certificate. This can be obtained from the funeral home. Copies will be needed for notification purposes.
One of the first things an executor should do is locate the estate planning documents. Ideally, the executor will already know where to obtain them. A copy of the will needs to be filed with the probate court, and this needs to be done typically within several days to a month of death. If the deceased person's estate plan is trust-based, it may be able to avoid probate. This can be a real blessing, depending on the state he or she lived in.
One will need to file letters testamentary after filing the will with the probate court. The probate court will need to confirm the executor appointment, and that is the purpose of the letters testamentary.
The next step is to locate the assets and protect them from distribution. Assets going through probate cannot be distributed until the probate process is complete and creditors have been paid. Trust assets may be distributed without court approval, but those under a will need to have approval from a probate judge.
The executor, before distribution, will need to ensure that creditors are paid. If the estate's debts exceed its assets, potential inheritors are not liable for paying them. Creditors, rather, will be prioritized according to the rules of the state. The executor's job is to determine whether the estate can cover all its debts before paying any of them off.
Again, seeking professional advice-particularly from an attorney and a tax accountant-can be an immense help in carrying out one's duties as executor, particularly if the estate plan is complicated. With this advice and a bit of planning, the process can go much more smoothly.
Source: Fox Business, "Seven Tips if You Are the Executor of an Estate," Judy Martel, June 13, 2012