The Final Responsibility: Being an Executor
It’s one of the most important tasks you can carry out for a friend or family member: carry out their last wishes after they’re gone. But you don’t have to do it alone.
An executor of a will carries out the last wishes of someone close who has died. The executor ensures that the rules that govern the administration of a probate estate are followed.
Here are three key tasks of the executor job:
You can get help. A lot of responsibility is involved in being an executor. Gathering paperwork tops the list. You’ll need to find all the assets of the estate. You have to report to the probate court with jurisdiction. There will be complex technical and legal language to decipher, as well as finding ways to communicate with grief-stricken family members at a time when they’re least able to rationalize. You’ll need to spend many hours where the deceased person lived, even if that means a lot of travel.
Fortunately, you can get professionals to help you. You can hire lawyers, accountants and other professional advisors on behalf of the estate to assist with tasks like preparing the final income and estate tax returns, and ensuring that the financial assets are invested properly during the probate process. As executor, you’re not expected to know everything about the process, but you should know when you need help.
You must be aware of all accounts, even those you don’t control. You never need to exercise control for accounts that have beneficiaries, like retirement accounts and insurance policies. And property held in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship pass directly to the survivor. But despite this, you still need to be aware of these assets and potentially account for them. The estate might owe taxes on these proceeds — you as executor have to collect a prorated share of any taxes due from those who inherit the policy benefit. Being aware of all this is crucial to doing a complete and thorough job.
You might get in the middle of a family battle. If the deceased person specifically wanted unequal amounts of property to go to different people, resentment bubbles up. You may find yourself in the epicenter of such a contentious debate. But the role of executor is separate — you treat family members fairly and defend the rights of heirs. It’s a hard line to walk, so professionals can help in dealing with any turmoil to keep you out of trouble.
Being the executor of a will is an important job and needs to be done well. Keeping this in mind, you’ll do your best to make sure that your loved one’s wishes are met and that the person’s heirs receive what the decedent intended.