The main responsibility of an executor of a will is to carry out the final wishes of the person who bestowed that position of trust. Usually, the executor is a close family member, but the executor could be a qualified, compensated person duly appointed under the laws of the state.
The Top Duties of an Executor Fall Into 5 General Categories:
1. Gathering the documents necessary for distributing the estate
2. Paying the debts and taxes and collecting from the estate’s debtors
3. Closing out the deceased’s insurance, retirement, and Social Security accounts
4. Maintaining the willed property prior to its disposal
5. Choosing the type of will probate and filing the will accordingly
Depending on the size of the estate, complications in probating the will, etc., the duties of the Executor can include much more. The Executor may require qualified legal assistance to navigate the complexities of probate and tax laws, for example.
Under ordinary circumstances, however, an executor can carry out the above general duties by taking the following actions:
1. Gather Necessary Documents
Secure copies of the deceased’s will, death certificate, deeds, trusts, insurance papers, etc. If required, obtain a court document that confirms the will is legal and valid and empowers the executor to administer the estate.
2. Close out the Deceased’s Financial Accounts
Contact the deceased’s banks, credit card account holders, and lenders. Gather information on mortgages, leases, taxes, etc. Settle any tax liens with the IRS or state tax authorities and obtain appropriate releases. Don't forget to also close out the deceased Social Security accounts.1
For deceased military personnel drawing retirement pay it is recommended that you immediately contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service at 800-321-1080.2 Retirement benefits terminate as of the date the retiree died. Any payments made to the retiree’s account after the date of death will be recouped from the retiree’s bank account.
3. Organize the Deceased's Assets
This includes homes, vacation properties, cash and financial assets, and businesses. Locate, inventory, and safeguard valuable household and personal property. Prepare a detailed listing for the heirs and tax authorities.
4. Collect Money Owed to and Pay the Debts of the Deceased’s Estate
File or assist beneficiaries in filing for life insurance proceeds. When closing out the Social Security account, file for the deceased death benefit. Also, examine and adjudicate outstanding debts owed to the deceased as well as creditors’ claims against the estate.
5. Maintain and Get the Deceased’s Real Estate Property Ready for Sale
Make sure routine property maintenance and security occurs prior to disposition of the deceased’s real estate. Check for tax or mortgage liens against the deceased’s property. Get professional advice on what steps to take to ready the property for sale. When the property can be put on the market, contact a qualified realtor or determine a sales strategy.
6. Prepare a Strategy to Expedite or Avoid the Probate Process
With proper estate planning, it is possible to avoid, or at least minimize, the time and expense involved in probating a will.3 For example, life insurance proceeds, some retirement accounts, as well as jointly owned real estate, pass directly to the beneficiaries without going through probate. Other strategies, like setting up a revocable living trust, can expedite the transfer of assets and bypass probate completely.4
7. Good Planning Leads to the Best Execution
So, an executor can help ensure orderly and uncontested flow of assets from the deceased’s estate to the heirs with attention to detail and preplanning. That includes advice to and consultation with the testator before the time comes when the executor must carry out the sad and often stress-filled duties described above.