Honored to be trusted and named to handle all the affairs of a loved one or friend upon the end of their life?
Congratulations – you are now an executor!
When the one who put her or his trust in you passes away and the time comes for you to do your duty, the reality of handling the myriad of situations that arise hits you. An executor is the one who handles all final arrangements as set forth in the will including financial concerns and everything else too.
Of course, this is while you are dealing with the loss of someone close to you.
It has been said that to be an executor requires organizational skills as well as patience in order to process the remaining estate. In some cases, it could take years to close someone’s estate.
But what exactly does an executor do and are you the right person to accept this responsibility? We’re not lawyers so this is the people-speak version.
While individual executor’s specific duties will vary, these are generally part of the role.
- File documents, obtain death certificate, publish death notices, arrange funeral services
- Confer with legal experts, file tax returns, follow the wishes expressed in the will
- Mail forms
- Contact authorities, collect any outstanding benefits owed to the person (insurance, salary, 401K, veteran’s benefits, etc.)
- Gather various data such as life insurance information, mortgage papers, titles, deeds, bills and numerous other life documents, access safety deposit box
- Sort through and value the personal property of the loved one
- Disperse all belongings to family members or sell then equally divide any assets among survivors
- Maintain a record of communications with authorities, dates and interactions of tasks in progress or completed
- Be able to communicate well and work with others remaining calm and focused as you sift through documents and uncover assets
- Remain open with your work on behalf of your loved one and transparent to all family members so that everyone knows about the amount and distribution of the assets to prevent any misunderstanding
- Responsible for all laws and may be held liable for any misappropriation of funds
- Keep the peace in the family and fulfill the wishes of the person
- If you have trouble with your own paperwork or controlling your own finances, you might not want to accept the responsibility of executor.
- The American Bar Association website has guidelines for executors to follow including a timeline to help you stay on track detailing when and how tasks should be completed.
- The estate usually pays for the expenses incurred by an executor such as travel if needed to conduct affairs. Some states allow executors to take a percentage of the estate to reimburse them for time spent handling the affairs. Be sure the family members realize that you are doing this so that it doesn’t create a problem later. Often a fee can be paid even if not specified directly in the will. The percentage is usually low such as 2% and often the amount of work required exceeds the payment so you shouldn’t feel guilty about accepting the fee.
- Family squabbles over the disbursement of the assets are likely and you will need to mediate them.
- It requires a time commitment to execute someone’s will. If you don’t feel you have time or are able to devote time to processing all the arrangements, you may need to decline. Only while the person is alive can you be removed as executor if you are unable to fulfill that role or a co-executor be added to assist you.
- If you agree to be the executor, you should learn all you can about the person’s accounts, assets, wishes and where information can be located to make the task easier when the time comes. Don’t be afraid to discuss things now with the family members and other beneficiaries so there will be no confusion later.
Being an executor is an honor but also an obligation. You will need to spend time and energy to fulfill your role advocating for the wishes of the person who selected you. Being aware of the responsibilities the job will require may make it easier to handle when the time comes – – or help you decide it might be better to politely decline if it is not a role you can fulfill. Knowledge is power!