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You've Been Made an Executor - Now What?

Posted on January 7, 2021

You've Been Made an Executor - Now What?

Being called upon to be an executor may seem like a daunting task. Amidst the stress and emotion of the death of a loved one, you need to act as a project manager for everything your loved one left behind.

There are many responsibilities that fall to an executor, some mandated by law and others by default. We’ve outlined the role an executor plays and the work they need to do in this helpful overview.

What does an executor do?

Once a loved one dies, the executor is the person appointed to handle that person’s affairs and administer their estate. Ultimately, the beneficiaries will be on the receiving end of assets and the executor facilitates both the management and distribution of these assets.

If you are or will become appointed as an executor, you may be faced with bureaucratic hurdles and challenging situations. Being an executor is a big job and it’s important to comply with rigorous policies as it relates to the distribution of assets and repayment of debts.

Above all, it is a practical role in place to ensure the assets of a loved one are properly distributed and after-life organization is smooth.

These are the primary tasks of an executor:

  • Organize and manage the assets, which can occasionally mean selling something that needs to be sold
  • Pay the bills, debts, taxes and expenses that are outstanding
  • Distribute remaining assets to those the deceased wishes them to be distributed to
  • Comply with local estate laws and ensure

Usually a close friend or family member of the deceased, an executor is also called upon to manage funeral arrangements, household management and dependent care. These are tasks you can freely delegate. Often, people will step up to manage these on their own.

Where to start

Often, the work of an executor begins even before a loved one’s passing.

In the best cases, you’ll have ample time to work with the deceased before their passing in order to understand their wants and wishes. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s what is legally documented that matters.

You should be doing preparatory work to understand where all assets and paperwork are kept. Know where to find a copy of the will and obtain a list of all of the bank accounts, credit cards, outstanding debts and recurring expenses.

You should also have a thorough understanding and prioritized list of the most urgent things to address when your loved one dies.

Care of dependents and pets

The first responsibility is an essential one - caring for any living dependents or pets your loved one has left behind. Usually arrangements will have already been made for the care of a dependent spouse or children, but you need to ensure that arrangement is organized and care is fulfilled. The same goes for pets. Often in the case of an illness or a stay in hospital before a death, pets can be overlooked. Care for them as soon as possible and rehome them according to your loved one’s wishes, or find suitable homes if no wishes were detailed.

Costs of care for dependents and pets can be taken from the deceased’s estate.

Notify family and friends

This is often one of the most difficult steps. It is your job to ensure people are informed of the death. This is a task you don’t have to undertake alone and can often be shared among family members and friends.

Managing the home

In the event of a death, households may not be perfectly organized to be left vacant. It is the work of an executor to ensure the home is secure and guarded against potential trespassers, as well as ensure other hazards are removed.

Executors can also ensure the house is cleaned and effects like houseplants and gardens are tended to.

Dealing with debts and credit cards

When we die, our debts don’t die with us. They need to be paid from the estate and accounted for by the executor.

Financial assets can only be distributed once debts are paid.

It’s also essential to cancel all payment cards or recurring subscriptions. Obituaries can signal fraudsters to falsify identities and seek out opportunities for payment fraud. Cancelling credit cards and alerting banks right away can help you avoid a nightmare of additional paperwork and legal challenges.

Death arrangements

Often, tasks like planning a funeral and organizing death notices will fall to multiple people. This is a big job. The executor is a conduit for bringing those people together to ensure that plans can be made according to the deceased’s wishes.

Writing and arranging an obituary for publication is another task often managed by executors. You can delegate this task if you aren’t comfortable with writing the obituary, with any associated costs coming from the estate.

Distributing assets

The distribution of assets is an important step in the process. This is where the items or funds are distributed to beneficiaries. As an executor, this can be rewarding, but may come with a share of stress.

It depends entirely on the assets and how the Will is written. Deaths are emotional and the aftermath of distributing assets can come with an emotional toll depending on family dynamics.

It is best to start with specific bequests, such as money designated for a charity or a property to a son or daughter. Often more financially significant items or those with sentimental value will be explicitly outlined in the Will.

What remains after specific bequests is known as the residue. You may be directed to distribute remaining assets or items to one or numerous beneficiaries - or, place those assets in a trust.

Accounting for your costs

Often executors will accumulate expenses. The role could require travel to distribute assets from the Will or things like shipping costs to mail items.

It’s essential to keep receipts and records for all expenses. If you are being compensated for your role as an executor, that also needs to be outlined with documentation. Then, each adult beneficiary needs to sign off on the accounting and give their signature for reimbursement of those costs.

The most important thing is to keep good documentation and be able to explain any and all costs thoroughly.

What about online assets?

In 2021, social media and the Internet are woven into our day-to-day lives. That means accounts and profiles tied to us - even after we die.

In the event of a death, take stock of all of the active profiles your loved one had on social media. Social media platforms, like Facebook, allow you to deactivate accounts or convert accounts into memorial pages. You need to be able to verify that you are a family member of the deceased. If you are not a family member, delegate this task to someone who is.

For legal and privacy reasons, social media platforms will not give you access to a loved one’s account credentials. They can only deactivate or convert pages.

When do the duties of an executor end?

In short, as soon as your duties have been fulfilled, your role as an executor ends.

In rare cases, it may be necessary for an executor to reopen an estate account. This would be in the case of a discovery of new assets, like a sum of money.

Once all of the assets have been distributed, debts have been paid, taxes have been settled and your costs have been accounted for, you are able to close the estate account.

Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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