Maybe you knew it was coming or it might have been a total surprise But you learned something today: You are the named executor of someone’s estate.
Being named the executor of someone’s will is both an honor and a position of trust — but it’s also a lot of work. If you’ve never handled this kind of job before, you may have only the vaguest sense of what comes next.
When managing an estate, where do you start?
Here’s a checklist of tasks that need to be handled by the executor right away:
- Talk over the funeral arrangements for the deceased. If the estate plans contain any specific instructions, communicate those wishes to the heirs and the funeral home.
- Obtain copies of the death certificate. You will need several because certified copies need to be provided to insurance companies, the Social Security Administration (SSA), companies and more.
- Secure the decedent’s assets. Nothing belonging to the decedent should be passed to their heirs until the estate is settled — but that may not stop the heirs from trying to collect mementos and items they believe they are due. Lock the deceased’s house, take possession of any insurance policies or property titles and secure small valuables.
- Locate and communicate with the heirs. Some of the heirs may be right there, while others may be far removed from the scene. You need to contact them all and explain that you are the executor and that you will keep them informed about what’s happening throughout the process of settling the estate.
- Stop automatic payments and make death notifications. You need to cancel any automatic bill payments and notify the deceased’s bank, insurers, companies and others about their death.
- Secure the deceased’s digital assets. If possible, it’s also wise to change the passwords on the deceased’s email, social media accounts, cloud storage and online shopping accounts. That will prevent any misuse or misappropriation until the estate is settled.
After the initial steps are taken, what comes next?
Generally the next steps involve filing the will with the probate court, setting up a bank account to pay the bills for the estate and collect its liquid assets, taking inventory and filing the deceased’s final tax return.
Because this stage of managing an estate can be very complicated, most executors will reach out for some professional help. Investment advisors, realtors, insurance agents, accountants and attorneys may all need to be involved.