Let’s start with an overview of an Executors’ responsibilities. As executor, your first duty is to initiate probate, which is the formal process of proving the Will and confirming your appointment as executor. The Clerk of your county Probate Court can provide you with the forms that are appropriate for your county. My experience with probate court clerks is that they are very helpful and responsive to your requests. Many of the forms you will need can be downloaded over the internet at your state or county website.
The details and deadlines in settling an estate will vary from state to state. In general, there are 16 items that will be on your to-do list.
1. Locate the will
2. Apply to appear before the Probate Court
3. Notify the beneficiaries named in the Will
4. Determine the debts of the deceased
5. Arrange for publication of “Notice to Creditors” and mail a notice to each known creditor
6. Send notices of the persons death to post office, utilities, banks, and credit card companies
7. Collect any money owed to the deceased
8. Inventory the assets, assign values, and have appraisals done if necessary
9. Check with the deceased’s employer for unpaid salary, insurance, and other employee benefits.
10. File for Social Security, civil service or veterans benefits
11. File for life insurance and other benefits
12. File federal and state tax returns
13. Pay valid claims against the estate
14. Distribute assets and obtain receipts from beneficiaries
15. File papers to finalize the estate
16. Obtain a lawyer or accountant, if necessary.
Do you need a lawyer or accountant? Technically, no. There is no law in place that says you must have an attorney, or that estate taxes must be done by an accountant. But, remember this: taxes and probate can be complicated issues. Mistakes will delay the closure of the estate and the distribution of inheritances. A good lawyer and/or accountant is an asset. Legal and accounting fees are paid by the estate. My advice is to shop around for an experienced probate attorney. Fees vary widely, so be sure to find out what the estate will be charged for legal services before making a commitment.
Additional Reading: Estate Executor’s To-Do List Part 1
Originally posted 2011-03-10 14:19:00.