So You are the Executor, now What?

Let’s say you are nominated in someone’s Last Will and Testament as the Executor, or that the family wants you to serve as the Personal Representative of someone’s estate. Now what?
While it is an honor to be named as an executor of a will or estate, it can also be a sobering and daunting responsibility. An executor, sometimes called a personal representative, is the person who is named in a will, and/or appointed by the court, and responsible for probating the Will and settling the estate. The terms ‘Executor’ and ‘Personal Representative’ are used interchangeably, with the ‘Executor’ usually being used when there is a Will, and ‘Personal Representative’ when there is no Will, or when the Will uses the term ‘Personal Representative’ instead of ‘Executor’.
Typically, a petition of probate must be filed with the court for an Executor/Personal Representative to be appointed. If the person agrees serve in this role, and no one objects, the court will issue letters of testamentary. These letters authorize the executor to gather the estate’s assets, sell assets, pay creditors, and open an estate bank account. An executor is ultimately responsible for distributing the estate assets to the heirs in accordance with the terms of the will. If there is no will, then your executor will distribute assets in accordance with state law. Distribution of estate assets, in either case, happens only after debts, taxes, and administration expenses are paid.
If you’ve found yourself in the position of serving as Executor here are some tips to lighten the load:

1.  Get professional help from an experienced attorney.
The caveat to being an executor is that once you accept the responsibility, you also accept the liability if something goes wrong. To protect yourself and make sure you’re crossing all the “i’s” and dotting all the “t’s,” hire an experienced estate planning attorney now. The Estate will help pay for it. Having a legal professional in your corner not only helps you avoid pitfalls and blind spots, but it will also give you greater peace of mind during the process.

2. Get organized.
One of the biggest reasons for feeling overwhelmed as an executor is when the details are coming at you from all directions. Proper organization helps you conquer this problem and regain control. We will advise you of what to do when, but in general, you’ll need to gather several pieces of important paperwork to get started. It’s a good idea to create a file or binder so you can keep track of the original estate planning documents, death certificates, bills, financial statements, insurance policies, and contact information of beneficiaries. Bringing all of this information to your first meeting will be a solid start.
3. Establish lines of communication.
As an executor, you are effectively a liaison between multiple parties related to the estate: namely, the courts, the creditors, the IRS, and the heirs. Create and maintain an up-to-date list of everyone’s contact information. Also, retain records such as copies of correspondence or notes about phone calls you make as executor. Open and honest communication helps keeps the process flowing smoothly and reduces the risk of disputes. It’s worth repeating because it’s so important — keep records of all communications, so you can always recall what was said to whom.

Conclusion: If you have been nominated and/or appointed as an Executor, and you are feeling overwhelmed, we can provide skilled counsel and advice to help you through the process. We can also help you draft your own estate plan, so your family can avoid the stress of probate. Give us a call today for an appointment. We look forward to hearing from you.

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