This is the tenth of a series on the duties of an executor. Think of it like a checklist, with everything an executor needs to take care of. To make this list as comprehensive as possible, we’ve divided the series into 12 parts. 

To view the series in its entirety, follow this guide:

It’s a common misconception that executors are solely responsible for tying up funeral details and distributing assets from an estate.

In reality, so much more goes into administering an estate. Often, the entire process can take more than a year - and distributing assets is one of the last steps.

Reconcile debts

As covered in Part Five of this Checklist, you should have a list of all debts that need to be repaid. These can include creditors like, credit card companies, utility providers and car loans.

Before funds can be distributed, debts need to be paid.

Creditors should be paid from the estate in the most efficient manner. Often, some of these more pressing bills will have been paid earlier in the process from the bank account created for the estate.

You may need to sell assets in order to pay for debts, since the total value of the estate needs to be considered. Take care when deciding what to sell, especially if certain items are intended for beneficiaries already. This is where seeking legal counsel can come in handy.

There is a priority order in which creditors should be paid, but it varies by state and province. In most cases, secured debts need to be paid first - like a loan taken against an asset like property.

Creditors can be paid from the account created for the estate.

Distributing assets and funds

Ensure that all funds, either from various accounts, investments, pensions and sales of assets, are accounted for and have been consolidated into the account created for the estate.

Note, accounts that are jointly held or had a designated payable-on-death beneficiary fall outside of the estate and aren’t reflected here.

You can arrange for funds to be distributed by check or money transfer from there..

Distributing personal effects

What we leave behind, regardless of the price tag, can have significant value to beneficiaries. Specific bequests, especially for things like family heirlooms, photographs, childhood mementos and personal tokens, have enormous sentimental value to beneficiaries.

As the executor, handle these items with equal care. Fragile items should be packaged with protective layers, especially if they need to be mailed to a distant beneficiary.

Personal effects with a higher monetary value, like antiques, artwork and jewelry should be distributed as efficiently as possible.

Work with the beneficiaries directly to come up with the most mutually beneficial way for these items to change hands.

It’s important to remember that, unless specifically outlined in the will, the cost of receiving items (ex: shipping a piece of antique furniture) is at the cost of the beneficiary - not the estate. That means as executor, you should lean more on the beneficiary to arrange for things like shipping, transportation and packaging.

You also need to keep records when it comes to distributing personal effects. Have the beneficiary sign a receipt confirming they received their items.

Covering your expenses

As an executor, you’re likely to incur expenses. You’re keeping someone’s home maintained, hiring experts, driving back-and-forth and investing in systems for digital and hard copy record-keeping. Those expenses don’t have to come out-of-pocket. They are paid from the estate. That’s also why it’s important to keep all receipts for expenses incurred, so you can be protected against any liability when it comes to assessing the estate as a whole.

In some cases, you might be accepting a fee for your role as executor. This would have been worked out with the deceased prior to their death and outlined in all legal documents. Typically, executor fees are calculated as a percentage of the estate, roughly between 1.5 and 3%, depending. 

Setting aside funds

In order to pay income taxes for the estate, ensure funds are available by setting the appropriate amount aside. Work with an accountant to assess how much needs to be set aside and remember, you can be held personally liable if there are not enough funds to cover taxes owing.

Next in the Executor Duties Checklist, filing taxes.