Your Guide to Being an Executor of an Estate
Being an executor of an estate is an important responsibility, ensuring that a decedent’s final wishes are completed. Often this work involves the distribution of assets to people and organizations important to the decedent.
An executor is an important position and one that reflects the trust and confidence the decedent had to complete these important last tasks fairly and properly.
What Is an Executor of an Estate?
The executor of an estate is a person who is appointed in a will to ensure that final affairs are completed. Often, the executor is a friend, family member, or trusted advisor, such as an attorney.
The executor is also known as the personal representative of the decedent. They carry a specific group of responsibilities, including:
Notifying the state Department of Health of the death
Paying off debts
Filing the final tax returns for the decedent
Distributing the decedent's assets to stated beneficiaries documented in a will
Determining an Executor
When someone dies, their affairs are decided in part by the probate process. Probate ensures that property and possessions are properly distributed and taxes and other debts are paid.
If the decedent has created a will, then the process becomes much simpler. If any case, a probate court judge will make a determination of who acts as executor based on several factors:
Determine if there is a will and if it is valid
Verify that a named executor, if there is one, is eligible to serve. A named executor may be bypassed if they are underage, have a criminal record, have a mental disability or have a history of substance abuse
Determine if the named executor wants the job
Appoint someone to administer the estate, either the executor or if ineligible, another party
How to Best Perform Executor Tasks
An executor’s duties may vary slightly from case to case. However, in general, here are some of the core elements of the role:
Death Certificate. The executor should obtain multiple copies of the death certificate, usually from the funeral home or hospital. A death certificate needs to be filed in multiple situations, including with tax returns, for life insurance claims, for access to financial accounts, and to notify agencies such as Social Security.
Funeral Arrangements. Often, details about funerals and burial are laid out in a will, and the executor will need to share those details with the funeral home and others.
Filing the Will. The executor should file the will with the local probate court, which sets in motion the settlement of the estate.
Collaboration and Communication. In some cases, an executor will work with other advisors, including an accountant, estate attorney, insurance agent, or investment advisor. The executor needs to reach out to credit card companies, banks, mortgage providers, and others to inform them of the death and gain access to accounts. Agencies providing benefits – Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans Affairs, for example – all need to be informed, too.
Inventory. An executor needs to take an inventory of critical needs. These items include accounts, with account numbers and passwords; names and contact information for family members, heirs, and advisors; and other details.
Security. The executor should ensure that valuable items are secured and protected so that assets do not disappear during the probate process.
Family and Other Heirs. Ideally, the decedent will have met with the family members and other heirs to communicate the contents and specifics of a will. This step can eliminate a lot of emotions and hurt feelings later. However, often that responsibility falls to the executor. In either case, it’s important to meet regularly with family members and keep them informed of the details and progress towards settling the estate.
Account Management. Establishing an estate account provides a holding place for the decedent’s assets. It is from this account where paychecks, proceeds, insurance dividends, and other assets should be deposited. It’s also from where all debts should be paid, providing a transparent record of all relevant transactions.
Expenses. Until the estate is fully settled, the executor is responsible for paying ongoing expenses, including mortgage payments, utilities, insurance premiums, credit cards, and other expenses. The executor will communicate with creditors about the outstanding debts and how those debts will be settled.
Asset Distribution. An executor needs to locate assets and manage them accordingly. In some cases, this means selling off property and retaining the proceeds for distribution. The executor must notify those named in the will and ensure that they obtain any designated assets.
At Solas Wealth, we help individuals and family members navigate life’s transitions. Our team of trusted advisors assists in the planning and strategy of investment decisions, helping diversify and protect assets while building wealth.
For assistance in your wealth planning needs, contact our team today.