To ensure personal assets are managed when one dies, one must name an executor of their estate. An executor could be a family member, trusted friend, accountant, or attorney.
“An executor of an estate has an enormous responsibility on their hands, and knowing what to do will make the duty easier to carry out,” says Estate Planning and Probate Attorney Samah Abukhodeir of The Florida Probate & Family Law Firm. The responsibility of an executor of an estate begins once the testator of the estate has passed away. Because most executors also have a personal relationship with the deceased, carrying out such responsibility while dealing with the pain of losing a loved one can be overwhelming.
Who is an Executor of an Estate?
An executor is appointed to handle their financial matters when they have passed away. An executor can be the deceased person’s family, friends, accountant, or attorney. Where the deceased has a will, they will usually name their executor in the Will.
An individual can have more than one executor. In that case, they will be required to name two people as co-executors. It is vital that whoever is to be made an executor should be an individual with good character and impeccable judgment.
An executor most times is also an heir to the estate. They are, however, required by law to carry out their fiduciary duties by ensuring that every decision made is for the estate’s best interest and not to champion personal gain. The primary responsibility of the executor is to ensure that the deceased’s wishes, as outlined in the Will, are carried out to the latter.
How is an Executor Appointed?
In most cases, the deceased names an executor to his estate while they are still alive. Where there is a will, the executor is named in the Will. However, in some cases, it is possible that the deceased does not have a Will or that the Will is invalid.
In that case, the judge can name a close relative of the deceased to function as an executor. When the judge makes this appointment, the person will be known as the administrator or personal representative, not an executor. The job function, however, is the same as that of an executor.
Often in their Will, the deceased may also name an alternative executor. This is done in case the primary executor declines to take up the position’s responsibility. The executor named on the Will is not compelled to take responsibility but can pass it on to someone else.
Steps to Take After Being Named an Executor
Being named an executor is an enormous responsibility. However, knowing the exact steps to take in carrying out such a task will go a long way in simplifying the entire process. Here are what to do if you have been appointed to function in the capacity of an executor:
#1. Send out Copies of the Death Certificate to the Appropriate Quarters
A death certificate is an important document required to initiate several processes after the death of a person. One of the critical tasks to carry out is funeral arrangements and notification of appropriate quarters as to the estate owner’s death. To carry out this task, the executor must obtain copies of the death certificate.
Depending on the number of places you may need to send the death certificate, getting as many copies as possible is ideal. Possible places where the death certificate may be required include:
- Insurance companies where the deceased has a running life insurance package
- Banks and investment firms that the deceased is associated with
- The tax office
- The Social Security Administration where the deceased was a recipient of such benefits. The administration will turn off the payment to avoid going through the hassles of refunding such payments
#2. Obtain a Copy of the Will
If you were named as an executor by the deceased, then it is likely that a will or trust exists. To ensure that the deceased’s wishes are carried out to the latter regarding the assets’ disbursement, you will need to obtain a copy of the Will or trust. This can be obtained from the deceased’s lawyer.
A copy of the Will is required to initiate the process of asset disbursement with the probate court. However, the distribution can occur without involving the court if the deceased left a trust, not a will. Whatever the case, the executor will need a copy of the Will or trust to know the next steps to follow.
#3. Safeguard the Assets
One of the common things that could happen in the event of the death of a person is the loss of assets, especially where the details of such assets are unknown. This is especially the case if the deceased did not leave a detailed list of all the assets they own and how to locate them.
Where the documents are not readily available, the executor must work hand in hand with the attorney who prepared the Will. So, do well to inquire from the lawyer about the assets.
#4. Pay off Pending Bills
Before rushing off to distribute the deceased’s assets to potential inheritors, the executor must ensure that there are no pending bills or taxes to pay off. If there are pending bills, they must be paid off before any asset distribution occurs.
Where the deceased keep a proper record of all assets and liabilities, the executor will find it easy to know if there are pending bills to clear. Where there are no accurate records, the executor will be tasked with compiling the debts to be paid. This can be done by going through bank statements and other financial documents.
Where the deceased’s assets can not cover the bills, the court will prioritize the debts and pay off as much as the estate can cover. However, potential inheritors are not held liable for the debts where the assets can not cover them.
If you are named an executor of a deceased’s estate, it is crucial to take your time to understand what the position requires you to do and ensure you do not skip any legal process. This is because an executor can be held personally liable if they make mistakes in handling the deceased’s financial matters. It is therefore vital to employ the services of a competent attorney to guide you through the entire process.