RTD has been helping clients and their families for over 35 years. “I was named estate executor, what should I do?” is a question we received more than once. Ideally, you were notified well in advance, had conversations, established an inventory of assets and liabilities, obtained copies of key documents, and learned the exact location of wills, trusts, deeds, keys to houses, etc. Executor duties and estate administration will be much easier if all is properly organized.
Executor duties normally coincide with the stressful time of a loved one or friend passing away. As you help implement the decedent’s final wishes, it may help you through the grieving process. Remember, you were chosen because you have what it takes to get the job done and because you are a trusted individual.
An executor must act as a fiduciary, which means putting the interests of the estate above his/her own. Be sure to open good lines of communication with the estate attorney, financial planner, and accountant because a good working relationship with each person on the team will help the whole process go smoothly. Keep in mind that a typical estate settlement may take 18 months or longer, and it’s important to be aware that if an executor mismanages estate funds, the executor can be found personally liable. Here are some helpful tips to make the duties less overwhelming:
- Care – Arrange care for children, dependents, and pets.
- Notification – Inform friends, family, estate attorney, financial planner, accountant, and clergy. Make funeral arrangements. (Are there any prepaid funeral accounts? Are burial plots needed and were they already purchased?) Create an obituary. Be sure to obtain enough certified copies of the death certificate.
- Inventory and Organize – Create an inventory of the decedent’s income items, assets, and liabilities including homes, retirement accounts, bank and investment accounts, valuables, and any other assets. Gather wills, trusts, life insurances, beneficiary designations, company benefits, birth certificate, pre and post nuptial agreements, stock certificates, real estate deeds, automobile titles and registrations. Contact social security, military, employer, and professional or trade unions to discuss any benefits. Social security will notify Medicare to cancel any in-force plans, if appropriate.
- Safeguard – You may need to change the locks to ensure friends and family do not remove items from the decedent’s house before the estate is settled properly. Ask neighbors to keep an eye on the house. Have the mail forwarded. Cancel subscriptions.
- Pay debts and bills – Determine any debts and bills, then pay them from decedent’s assets. Track any out-of-pocket expenses. Keep good records.
- Current Cash Flow – Establish a checking account or re-title checking account to handle current expenses and to pay current bills.
- Close Accounts – Close (or temporally re-title) credit cards but first ask about accumulated points. Cancel driver’s license. Notify the credit bureaus.
- Pay taxes – Work with the accountant and estate attorney to file income tax returns. Work with the estate attorney to determine the proper estate filings and if any estate taxes are due.
- Distribute – Work with the estate attorney and financial planner to determine how to distribute assets and how to open the appropriate accounts.
Being organized, keeping good records, and having a good team (financial planner, accountant, and estate attorney) should help make the settlement of the estate much more manageable.