If you expect to be executor of the estate for a family member or friend, this is for you. When my parents asked me to be their executor, I said yes without much thought (I don’t recommend that!) If you have agreed to be someone’s executor, read on to learn what to do now to avoid pain later.
Here are my top suggestions of things you can do ahead of time — with the support of the person who named you executor — to make things easier for everyone when the time comes.
#1: If You Are Executor of the Estate: Know the Estate Settlement Process
If you are an executor, your job is to settle, or administer the estate. That just means that after the person is laid to rest, you are responsible for paying their debts and distributing their assets. You will also make decisions about the day-to-day management of the household (like paying bills and providing for dependents) while you settle the estate. So it’s important for you to know the basic steps of the estate settlement process.
If you’re the executor, you will need to:
- Do an inventory
- Open the probate estate (if necessary)
- Determine the value of the assets
- Pay bills and expenses
- Pay taxes
- Distribute assets
- Close the probate estate (if one was opened)
If you’re already on “the other side” of the will and the person who named you executor has already died, I’m sorry. The American Bar Association has Guidelines for Individual Executors & Trustees here. (I also cover the estate settlement process in more detail in the Closure section of my book.)
The rest of this post assumes you have some ability to work with the person who has asked you to carry out their wishes.
#2: If You Are Executor of the Estate: Know Who You’ll Be Working With
You will need to work with others to close the estate. Ask to be introduced to your friend or family member’s advisors. If they worked with an attorney, you need to know who they are and how to contact them. The same goes for financial advisor, accountants, or clergy. Get the names and phone numbers at least; emails are helpful, too. Review the will and find out who the beneficiaries are. Make sure you know how to contact anyone named in the will, if you don’t already talk to them all the time. If you’re sharing the estate administration fun with a co-executor, be sure to share this information with them.
#3: If You Are Executor of the Estate: Know Where Stuff Is
Every single article you will read about estate settlement or executor responsibilities starts with some version of “figure out what you’re working with.” You need to know what real estate, financial accounts, debts, and valuables are owned (or owed) by the person whose estate you are administering. You’ll also need to know how they are owned (i.e. just by that person, in trust, or held jointly with others.)
Try to get the details from the person, if you can. If necessary, offer to help them get organized. At the very minimum, know where the original will is, and how to access the person’s house, phone, and computer.
If you’re not sure where to go from there, check out my guided workbook Life in Motion: A Guide for Gathering Life’s Vital Information. It has the forms, checklists, and inventories you need if you’re the executor of an estate.
I hope these tips are helpful. Doing these three things can save you a lot of time (and possibly frustration) later!