executor, personal representative

One of the most honored and esteemed titles to hold is being named executor to an estate.  By naming you as a personal representative, you have been trusted and labeled someone very special in the eyes of a deceased relative or friend. While this title comes not only with respect and admiration it also holds tremendous responsibility.

The Executor can be an overwhelming responsibility to the deceased’s final wishes, their family, and the state in which they lived in.  After all, the person in this position immediately becomes legally obligated to protect the assets left behind and disburse them according to the probate process.

View the following to serve as a simple checklist of items you will need to settle the estate in a more orderly fashion.  After all, even though you are tasked with taking care of the final business for the decedent you are allowed to grieve as well.  Following some of this advice may help you avoid a stumbling block in the midst of the fast paced transactions that are often needed.

1.  Copies of the Death Certificate

You’ll need multiple copies for settling accounts of debt and ownership.  It’s recommended to get one copy for each known account the deceased had.

2.  If the decedent was receiving Social Security benefits; notify the Social Security administration immediately of death.

According to the Social Security Administration here is how to perform this step:

Notify Social Security as soon as possible. Then, you can ensure your family receives all your entitled benefits. This includes a one-time payment of $255. However, the funeral director usually will report the death. In this case, give the director the deceased’s Social Security number so the director can report to Social Security.

Report the death yourself by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between      7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Also, remember you and the deceased’s financial institution must return any funds received for the month of death or thereafter.

3.  Obtain a copy of the will

The will is a public court record and should be filled in the county of the deceased’s residence.  This filed copy is the official document used to disperse assets as they have wished.

Once you locate the county court house you can obtain a copy by either appearing in person or calling them on the telephone.  There is usually a copy fee involved but you will need multiples as described above.

If you cannot obtain the filled copy you may be able to locate an unofficial copy from the residence files, safe, or even a safe deposit box.

4.  Consult with tax accountant

You will want to charge an accountant or tax preparer to assist you early on with starting to prepare the final tax returns.  The accountant can also assist with collecting any money owed to the estate, paying any outstanding bills, closing accounts, filing estate taxes.

5.  Estate attorney submitting the right probate forms.

Doing it yourself will take longer.  Use the attorney that filed the will for the deceased as they will be more familiar with the parameters of the estate.  It cost the estate a little more money but it will be worth it to you because you have no idea if probate proceedings are needed or not, and what other legalities must be conducted to settle the full estate.

6.  Court will confirm your appointment as executor by issuing letters testamentary or surrogate certificates.

Your first appearance in court will be your confirmation or declination as executor to the estate.  You are not legally obligated to fulfill the duties as personal representative and if you choose to decline this will be the time to do that.

7.   Obtain a detailed list of documents and assets.

Is there a Safe deposit box, home safe, lock box? This is the first place to look for the important documents below.  You will need all of them to balance the assets with the liabilities of the estate.

  1. Copy of will-covered above
  2. Trust documents– Noting stipulations of the trust, and who is the trustee to carry out the trust, this could be you as well.
  3. Insurance policy information– note amounts, and beneficiaries. Can you use partially to reimburse funeral costs?
  4. Investment accounts– stock certificates, check books, account statements
  5. Prearrangement of funeral plans– Was this done or not?
  6. Bank account information– The check books will be most helpful if you need to recreate a financial statement.
  7. Automobile title– These will be needed if the automobiles will be sold or disbursed to heirs. Payoff information will be needed for any that have a balance owed.
  8. Property deeds– check for recorded deeds and mortgages at the courthouse as well. If you will be selling the property to cover debt, disburse to heirs, or deeding the property to any heir.
  9. Liability information– mortgages, banks, credit cards,
  10. Documents valuing collectibles, art, coins-As you discover tangible valuables on the estate also attempt to locate any documentation as well. For example, certificates of authenticity, appraisals, photographs, and autographs.

8. Deceased’s forms of Identification– birth certificate, driver’s license, social security card

9. Paying the debts

Banks will assist in opening an account in the name of the estate for purposes of settling debts, paying expenses for the settling of the entire estate.

10. Filing final tax return

Get back with that accountant that you already selected early on.

11. Divorce decree, adoption documents

Locate any paperwork of separation or addition to the will though these types of documents.

With a little organization and assistance from the accountant and attorney you will be less overwhelmed with this admired responsibility.  Although, this is not a comprehensive list, it will help you keep track with what you have done by using this checklist as a guide to get you started.

Good luck and reach out to me if I can be of service to you.