If someone has named you the executor of his or her estate, it is a good idea to know what the expectations are before you decide whether to accept or decline the job. Serving as executor of a complex estate can be time-consuming, stressful and frustrating. Even for smaller estates, it can still be a thorny process.
However, many people view the responsibility as more of an honor rather than as an obligation. After all, you were trustworthy enough to be tapped to distribute the deceased's assets in the way he or she wanted. So, what could be in store for you?
Determining if probate is necessary: It could be that all of the deceased's assets were jointly owned and pass on to that co-owner (a spouse, for example). Retirement plans and life insurance plans pass to the person named in plan paperwork as beneficiary even if the will states otherwise. If probate is necessary, a smaller estate should qualify for a quicker process.
Filing a copy of the will with the probate court: Hopefully, the deceased was clear as to where the will was located, but sometimes, you have to track it down or get permissions for accessing it. For example, if the will is in a safe deposit box, you may need to provide the bank with a court order before you can open it.
Sending notifications about the death: You will need to notify credit card companies, mortgage companies and other lenders of the death, as well as banks and other institutions where the deceased had accounts. You may also need to notify government agencies such as the IRS.
Opening a bank account for execution management: You will have to track incoming funds such as a paycheck or Social Security check and pay some debts and outgoing bills such as the water bill and electric bill. Doing all of this from your personal accounts is not a good idea. You will also need to file the deceased's income tax returns and possibly pay estate taxes.
Protecting property and assets: It may be months before you can distribute the estate to the heirs or sold to pay off the estate's debts. In the meantime, you will be in charge of property maintenance, investment management and other such tasks.
Distributing the property and assets: When you have taken care of all the other business of the estate, it is finally time to pass on the property and assets to the beneficiaries. You may have to do more (or less, if the estate is simple). However, this list gives you a good idea of what is typically involved.