First Time Executor? 6 Steps to Settling an Estate

March 01, 2016

Trying to navigate the duties of an executor can be overwhelming, especially if it’s the first time you’ve taken on this level of responsibility. To avoid unnecessary stress in what’s already a stressful environment, we’ve given you six steps to help you settle an estate in an organized and legal manner.

  1. Understand the rules
    Each state has their own unique probate and tax laws, so it’s important to become familiar with them as you settle into your role as executor. Don’t be afraid to ask local experts (estate lawyers, tax professionals) for help. The more you understand the rules, the more effective you will be in settling the estate.
  2. Outline your strategy
    One of your main responsibilities as executor involves paying bills associated with the estate, filing and paying all necessary taxes, contacting beneficiaries, and carrying out probate court administration. It’s important to stay organized to avoid overlooking key tasks! Keep your approach business-like – you’re carrying out the wishes of another.
  3. Obtain legal authority
    Before taking any steps forward, you will need legal permission to finalize the estate. This is done by filling the most current version of the will with your local probate court, thus beginning the process of executing the will. Probate court functions to interpret the instructions of the deceased, and not filing could lead to civil or criminal penalties. You will also need to attain “letters testamentary,” certifying you to act on behalf of the estate.
  4. Compile a list of assets
    Your next step will be to create a detailed list of the deceased’s assets, the assets’ location, and their beneficiaries. Titles, deeds, account statements, maintenance records, and receipts can all help you put together an all-encompassing list. Common assets include cash, transfer-on-death assets, trusts, and conditional gifts.
  5. Send notifications of death
    Death certificates are the official evidence of death, and are required to close out accounts, alter Social Security payments, and to make claims on behalf of a beneficiary. These can be obtained from your local county office. Copies of the death certificate will need to be sent to inform beneficiaries and heirs that an executor has been appointed, giving creditors an opportunity to come forward.
  6. Protect and distribute property

Be sure to keep all estate assets separate from your own, so as to avoid conflict of interest. Instructions on the will should be followed carefully, and you should avoid taking unnecessary risks with estate money. Again, you are carrying out the wishes of someone else. You may need to sell assets to cover expenses – but be sure to consult a qualified attorney and accountant for assistance.

While there are several things to remember when dubbed an executor, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others who can assist in what can be an overwhelming task. Find an estate attorney, accountant, and qualified financial professional who can answer any questions you may have.

If we at Kemp Harvest Financial Group can help you in any way, please feel free to contact us.

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This information is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal or tax advice. Please consult your legal or tax advisor regarding your specific situation.

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Information adapted from Mainstay Investment’s Wealth Matters article, “Settling an Estate can be Unsettling.”