Common Questions and Answers for Executors of an Estate

What does an Executor of an Estate Do? When you lose a loved one, there are a lot of things on your mind. You are grieving, just like many of their other famil...

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Common Questions and Answers for Executors of an Estate

Posted by Eric Blackwell on Monday, June 10th, 2019 at 7:05am.

What does an Executor of an Estate Do?

When you lose a loved one, there are a lot of things on your mind. You are grieving, just like many of their other family and friends. You are missing them and wish you could have one more conversation with them, again just like many of their family and friends. The difference is that they have entrusted you to be the executor of their will. This means that you have the sole responsibility and honor of carrying out their last wishes and you also have the obligation of properly handling their remaining assets, including potentially stocks, bonds, cars and their home which is likely the largest asset of theirs.

The honor of being asked to do this can be very rewarding and satisfying. It can actually help you say goodbye to them as you execute their wishes faithfully. But there are certain steps that you need to expect as a part of this process. If you handle these steps, it will improve your odds of a positive outcome. Here are some questions that have been asked to be executors often ask.

What are my rights and responsitbilities as an executor of an estate?

The executor is typically responsible for locating, managing and eventually distributing the deceased person’s assets. Others who may feel that they are in line to inherit properties think that they can make decisions about selling a homes or real estate owned by the person who died. That is a responsibility now entrusted to you as the executor. There also may be bank accounts, valuables in safes at the house or in safe deposit boxes.

Additionally you may have the job of distributing items that, while not of particular monetary value are sentimentally important to the deceased. Additionally they may have legal and home maintenance matters that need addressing.

Usually, people chosen to be executors of estates are chosen because those who are deceased trusted them to be objective and responsible. 

Do I get paid for taking care of an estate?

Depending on the size of the estate, taking care of property, bills, taxes, and inheritances can be stressful and complex. And it can be very time consuming to do it right, even for a small estate. While it is your decision to choose if you want to charge for your executor services, in most cases close friends and family members do this without charge and consider it an honor.
There are some states that do require executors to be paid for their time devoted to the deceased’s estate. (A quick Google search can help you see if that applies to you.)

How do I get the real estaste or other personal property in the estate ready to sell?

A suggestion offered by many professionals dealing with estates is that before listing a home with a REALTOR, that you contact the IRS. In some situations, they might need to release that property from the estate or a lien before you have the ability to sell it. But just because you may not want to list it first, talking with a REALTOR may be a great source of help. They have access to professionals and resources for you to make sure that the home can be sold. It is important to get the correct information for your specific situation. Each case is different.

They are also in an excellent position to help you determine a sales strategy. They can connect you with what the deceased's home is worth, what improvements are worth making and which won't add value. They can connect you with contractors, landscapers and other improvement professionals that can accomplish the preparations for selling the home efficiently and effectively. They can provide you information so that you can communicate with other loved ones of the deceased what will be needed.

There are a lot of possible preparations for selling a home, including decluttering, replacing broken furniture and fixtures, touching up and repainting walls. Sometimes to get the maximum value an older home may need modernizing, but do you choose to do that or to sell the home "as-is"?  A REALTOR will have the answers and assistance that you need here.

What legal or financial help should I get as the Executor of an Estate?

Serving as an executor can take a lot of time. Legal and financial documents can be confusing and you may be unsure that you have done it right. Sometimes you may need to seek competent guidance to help. Much of this will depend on your experience.

If you do not understand the legal documents it is advisable to real out to professionals who can help you (sometimes they are avaialble at FREE or Reduced prices) to help you get comfortable that you understand the process and paperwork. A lawyer could for example, guide you through legal questions and situations as they come up and could also look over paperwork just to be sure before you file it. They can also assist with any disputes that arise.

A certified professional accountant (CPA) might be helpful with financial paperwork and issues. In more complicated estates, they can check to make sure that financial documents are correct and complete and can help keep the executor of an estate organized and on top of deadlines.

It is important to remember that any fees for these services come directly from the proceeds of the estate. Using professionals reduces the amount that beneficiaries can expect, so minimizing these costs is important uless the dollar amount of the estate justifies the expense. 

How do I stay up on the Day to Day Details?

Being the executor of an estate means staying on top of the details. You will need to keep paying utilities, mortgages and homeowner’s insurance and other needed expenses of home upkeep. Cable TV, Phone bills and other items will need to be shut off. Banks, often Social Security and other offices will need to be notified of the death so that they can take appropriate actions.

It is important to make a complete list of these "To Do" items and accomplish them methodically and make notes about what you did in who you talked to in each case. 

Yes there are dealines but it is most important that you are thorough.  Your role as executor is to take the time you need to carry out their last wishes and settle their accounts and make sure that their will is executed. It typically takes 6 months to a year. That is true regardless of whether it is a fairly simple estate with one home or a more complicated estate with a large amount of assets.

The important thing is to go step by step. Make a list and do not let other people rush you, but work effeciently through the process.

8 Things to be careful to do as Executor to a Will

Here is an  8 point chekclist for Executors:  

  1. Get a copy of the death certificate. 
  2. Collect the will, trusts, deeds, stocks, bonds and titles. Protect them and organize them. 
  3. Get a grant of probate from the court. This confirms the will is legal and valid, and gives you the authority to execute estate.
  4. Watch out for special taxes for estates, like capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes and property taxes. Make sure to account for them BEFORE distributing proceeds to beneficiaries 
  5. Check all banks, as well as credit card and other lenders. Find out payoff information and taxes and other fees owed.
  6. Collect any money owed to the deceased / the estate. Even from people who are potentially beneficiaries. Pay bills and claims owed by the estate, while denying any improper claims/
  7. Find all valuable household and personal property. Record it, inventory it, and secure it. 
  8. Collect any life insurance benefits that are payable to the estate.

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