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Executor 101: What an Executor Needs to Know

If you’ve recently been made an Executor, you may be wondering what your responsibilities are. Keep reading to find out.

So, you’ve been named the executor of someone’s estate. Congratulations! This is an incredibly important appointment within an estate plan, and you should feel honored to have been chosen by a loved one to fulfill this trusted role. Choosing an executor is not a decision that is made lightly, and it truly indicates the high regard you were held in the eyes of the deceased. If you have been selected for the role, you may be wondering what exactly an executor does and what your responsibilities may be. We often hear about what an Estate Plan should entail, but we do not often hear about the exact responsibilities an executor will be trusted to carry out. 

Trust & Will, the leader in online estate planning services, wants to make sure that you are prepared for your responsibilities as executor when the time comes. With an executor’s role being so significant and integral to the Estate Plan, it may be hard to understand what your exact obligations are. In this article, we will summarize many of the basic responsibilities and what you need to know going into your role as an executor.

What is an executor?

An executor is a legally-recognized person (or institution) who was designated by a decedent (or the court) to oversee and manage the estate of the deceased. An executor is appointed to make sure that all of the deceased’s assets and debts will be accounted for and managed in accordance with the law and the directives detailed in the will and/or Estate Plan. An executor is usually chosen because they were someone who was considered to be capable, conscientious, honest, and able to communicate well and diplomatically.   

What are an executor’s responsibilities?

Depending on the grantor’s (the deceased) wishes, your specific roles as an executor may vary, as they may have left certain preferences and requests that are unique to them and their Estate Plan. However, there are several tasks that all executors will be responsible for overseeing when it comes to settling an Estate. Keep reading to learn more about each of these responsibilities. 

1. Receive the death certificate 

The first step you will need to take as an executor is to obtain the official death certificate. Without a copy of a certified death certificate, you will not be able to complete many of your other duties as executor, because you will need proof of death to move forward with executing the deceased’s will, trust, and more. You will likely need several certified copies of the death certificate because most banking institutions, brokerages, 404K retirement plans, lenders, life insurance companies, the IRS, Veterans’ Affairs, and other organizations may require you to submit either an original or a copy of a death certificate before any transactions can take place. 6 - 10 copies of a death certificate is the average amount needed, but the quantity will be dependent on the parameters of the deceased’s estate.

2. Submit the death certificate to the court 

Once you have obtained the death certificate, you may need to submit it to the probate court, which is the court in which estates go to be settled after someone passes on. If an estate was put into a Trust, it will likely not need to pass through the probate court because the trust will automatically transfer title to the beneficiaries. If however, there are assets that require probate court proceedings, it will be the responsibility of the executor named in the will to open a case in probate court. For very small estates with fewer assets, some states offer a simpler alternative to circumvent the probate process. 

3. Open an estate account

Once the deceased has passed away, the executor may choose to open an Estate Account, as this is where all the monetary assets will live until they can be passed on to the beneficiaries. Again, you will need the death certificate to open and have access to this account.  While assets are within this account, Beneficiaries will not have access to their inheritance. 

4. Take stock of assets 

It will be important for you as the legally-named executor to identify the assets of the deceased and determine what needs to be passed on, as well as ensure that all assets mentioned within the will and trust are accounted for. This will help you catalog any assets that may need to be addressed through the probate court. 

5. Attend probate court

As the executor, it will be your responsibility to attend probate court proceedings and oversee the settling of the estate. This is necessary as it will be your job to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are followed, as it is possible that other family members may protest certain decisions and you will need to be there to advocate on behalf of the deceased’s wishes. 

6. Keep all beneficiaries up to date 

As you will be attending all probate court proceedings to ensure the deceased’s wishes are being followed, it will also be your responsibility to keep all beneficiaries informed on the status of the proceedings. The beneficiaries are those who are receiving some portion of inheritance or assets from the estate, meaning it will be important to them to stay updated on the probate court process and other estate matters. 

7. Pay off outstanding debts 

It is likely that the deceased did not pass away without any outstanding debts in their name. It will be your responsibility to make sure that these debts are handled, including paying various bills such as mortgages, loans, taxes, utility bills, car notes, or HOA fees that still need to be paid. In order to pay off these debts, you will use the finances that are held within the Estate Account. This is one of the primary reasons the assets are held in an Estate Account, as inheritance cannot be distributed until all debts are settled. You will also want to close existing accounts like gym or country club memberships, online shopping, magazine, movie or music streaming subscriptions so they do not continue to automatically charge or withdraw from the decedent’s accounts.

While choosing an Executor can be challenging, and the process of settling an estate may be time-consuming, the creation of an Estate Plan does not need to be either of these. At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

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