Your understanding about Duties of An Executor of A Will will enable you to avoid a lot of the unnecessary work that most probate lawyers routinely do to increase their fees. It is recommended that you review these step-by-step procedures (not all are involved in all estates) and do your own research. You then will be able to do your job efficiently, effectively, and competently, and require the same from your lawyer.
The following Duties of An Executor should be done by an executor or administrator, not a lawyer.
1 Give Notice
Give notice to all banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, brokerage accounts, financial institutions, and other businesses where the decedent has ac- counts or business relationships. Obtain passbooks, certificates, factual data, and all other information about the ac- counts. It also might be appropriate, depending on the family situation, to give notices to friends and business associates. Later, if probate proceedings are instituted, the statutes of your state may require a formal notice to be published.
Check insurance coverage on all of the decedent’s estate, including property, casualty, and life insurance. It will be necessary to determine all coverage for the purposes of protecting assets, changing insurance coverage as appropriate, and assisting in making claims on life coverage.
It might be appropriate in some situations to change the name of the insured from the decedent’s name to the name of the estate. In other situations, where title to property passes on to the beneficiaries, it might be appropriate to wait and transfer the insurance coverage along with title to the property. Although life insurance is generally payable directly to the beneficiaries, it might be appropriate for an executor to assist the beneficiaries in the settlement of insurance claims. If life insurance proceeds are a part of the estate for tax purposes, it might be necessary for an executor to make proper tax returns.
Notify the post office and arrange for receipt of the decedent’s mail. It is also generally appropriate when you no- tify friends and business associates to request that mail be ad- dressed directly to you instead of to the decedent 4. Copy of Will. Make additional copies of the decedent’s will, if any, for beneficiaries, taxing authorities, and others who might need it. You will be surprised to learn how many people have some interest or claim in estates and want a copy of the will. You also will be surprised at the number of people who show a great surprise at being left out of a will. Of course, copies of the will are obtainable from the probate court, but it is much easier and less expensive to have extra copies available.
5. Copies of Death Certificate.
Make several copies of the death certificate, since it will be needed in many of the transactions connected with the collection of the property, and the management and distribution Of the estate. Extra copies will be needed for social security, insurance claims, bank transactions, and many other items.
6. Family Conference.
Schedule a family conference at which all interested parties can be advised of the facts available and exchange information and ideas about the handling of the estate. This could be one of the most important things you will do in the administration of an estate. The more you know about what needs to be done and who should do it, the more you will gain the confidence of the beneficiaries, family members, and others who are interested in the estate. Again, it is important that you learn about the probate process before you are thrust into the role of executor or administrator without any idea of what you will be required to do.
Social Security or veterans benefits are sometimes involved in making burial arrangements. Rarely will an executor be appointed by the court before the funeral; therefore, it is generally some member of the family who will assist in making burial arrangements—sometimes under great stress and intimidation. Proper estate planning by the decedent can greatly facilitate what otherwise might be a very complex and expensive ordeal.
8. Consider Employment of Attorney.
The family conference is a good time to discuss if you need to employ an attorney, and if so, who. If the decedent has a regular attorney who assisted in the estate planning, the choice might be easy. In a vast majority of the cases, however, the decedent not only does not have an attorney, he most likely did not have any significant estate plans or other activities designed to make the administration of the estate easier.
Safe Deposit Boxes.
List the contents of any safe deposit boxes in the decedent’s name. Most state laws provide that certain persons must be present at opening, including tax authorities, and that an inventory must be made of all the contents of safe deposit boxes. After the box is opened, its contents are listed, and you have proper approval, you can take possession of all valuables and make sure that they are properly protected and distributed.
10. Preliminary Estimate of Estate Property.
Make a preliminary estimate of the decedent’s estate to determine what form the probate and administration of the estate should take. This is the point at which it might first become evident that the estate is small enough to come within the no-probate provisions of the statutes. You should research these provisions as soon as you get a copy of your state statute.
Collection and Protection of Property.
Search the household, make an inventory of all personal property, and arrange for storage and protection of personal property. Discretion is required where there is a surviving spouse who is living in the home. In fact, you might have very little to do with personal tangible property in this situation. Do not interfere where you are not required by law to do so. More- over, most decedents and their survivors do not want unnecessary ‘ ‘poking around” by lawyers or executors where it is not necessary. Real estate protection and management is of particular importance where the decedent owned apartments, business buildings, or other real estate that needs day-to-day management. A going business usually requires immediate attention, unless there is a surviving partner or manager.
12. Utilities, Charge Accounts, Credit Cards, etc.
A large number of business activities of a decedent, including credit cards, should be closed down as soon as possible. You might want to transfer some accounts into the name of the estate; for example, utilities, telephone, and other services that are needed by you, the family, or business. Otherwise, it is appropriate to close out the accounts of a decedent or have them transferred to the surviving spouse or other family members.
13. Employer Benefits, Salary, Bonuses, Pension and Profit Sharing Plans, etc.
Many of the decedent’s personal matters might be handled by the surviving spouse or other family members; however, it is usually appropriate and proper for an executor to assist in most of these matters.
14. Open Estate Bank Accounts.
If the probate is complicated or, for other reasons, might last a long time, you probably will need a bank account in the name of the estate so you can carry on the financial transactions necessary to bring the estate to a close. Generally, these transactions will not occur until after probate proceedings are filed and you are officially appointed.
Open Estate Bank Accounts.
If the probate is complicated or, for other reasons, might last a long time, you probably will need a bank account in the name of the estate so you can carry on the financial transactions necessary to bring the estate to a close. Generally, these transactions will not occur until after probate proceedings are filed and you are officially appointed as executor.
15. Personal Records and Tax Returns.
You should assemble all personal records and tax returns of the decedent in order to familiarize yourself with all the financial transactions involved. These records will be essential for obtaining the back- ground information and facts you will need to handle the estate properly and to prepare tax returns.
Current Bills and Obligations.
Early in the probate process, you should formulate some estimates as to whether the estate is solvent or potentially insolvent. If you are sure the estate is solvent, you might wish to pay current bills and obligations to avoid interest and penalties. If, however, questions remain as to the estate’s solvency, you should be cautious about making any payments on estate obligations. In most situations, it might be appropriate to require a claimant to file a claim in the probate proceedings; however, telephone bills, utility bills, and the like might need to be paid to avoid termination of services.