You've Been Appointed Executor: Now What?

Posted on: 28 January 2016


You should, first of all, feel honored that someone found you trustworthy and responsible enough for this important and serious duty. Being appointed executor means that you must demonstrate the highest measures of honesty, discretion and fairness in all dealings with the deceased's estate. You will be acting as the personal representative of a person who is no longer able to do so, and you will be entrusted with acting wisely on their behalf. The most prominent responsibilities include overseeing the probate process, keeping the estate operating during probate, and distributing the assets of the estate once probate is complete. For a basic overview of these duties, read on.

Should You Accept the Appointment?

The job of executor can be time-consuming and challenging, so be sure to carefully consider the consequences of accepting this honor from a friend or family member. The duties can last the duration of the probate process, which could be several months, but can stretch even longer for more complicated estates. Before you accept, you should understand that you can be held liable for mismanaging an estate and you could be the subject of a lawsuit by concerned parties.

Important Documents to Gather

One of the first tasks will be to ensure that you get a general idea of the scope of the estate by gathering the following:

*The deceased's last will and testament. Often left in a safe deposit box, but the estate attorney should also be able to provide you with a copy as well.

*Death certificates. Normally available a week or so after the death in most cases. You will need several certified copies, so don't skimp on the number ordered.

*Life and burial policies. These will be needed for the funeral home when making arrangements. You are responsible for ensuring that funds or insurance policies are made available for burial arrangements.

*Trusts. This legal instrument can serve a similar function as the will, with a trustee being charged with it's administration upon the death of the trust owner.

*Checking and savings account information.

*Location and contents of safe deposit boxes. These boxes often hold not only valuable documents needed to administer the estate, but valuable jewelry, bonds and cash, which are now part of the estate.

*Deeds to real estate.

*Titles to vehicles.

*Tax returns.

*Investment account information.


Don't delay in notifying the Social Security Administration about the death. Payments are normally deposited monthly via automatic transfer to a bank account, and any over-payments must be returned. Also notify Medicare, health insurance companies, and all creditors, such as credit cards and loan companies.

File the Will

Meet with the estate attorney as soon as possible after the death to ensure that the will is filed with the local county probate court. Your attorney will likely also post a notice in a local newspaper inviting any creditors to come forward if they have an interest in the estate.

Bills and Taxes

You must file and pay any taxes owed, whether it be federal income taxes or property taxes. Consult with the attorney concerning all other bills; some must be paid during probate and some must wait till after probate.

Carry Out the Wishes

The final responsibility of the executor is the distribution of assets upon the probate's completion. This can be a daunting task that calls for discretion, fairness and sensitivity. Work closely with other family members when carrying out this duty.

With the help of a estate attorney, fulfilling the duties of executor does not need to be intimidating or overwhelming, but can instead be a final gracious gesture to the memory of the deceased. To learn more, contact an estate planning attorney or firm like Seiler & Parker PC.