When you ask a loved one to serve as your executor, what exactly are you asking? Understanding the responsibilities of the role, how much work is involved and how they’ll know if they are doing things properly are all fair questions, says a recent article titled “Pre-planning–what does the executor do?” from Pennsylvania News Today.
In simplest terms, the executor (sometimes referred to as the testament executor or personal representative) files the will with the probate court, identifies assets that pass through the will, arranges for payment of debts, makes sure the taxes are paid and manages the distribution of assets. The executor is responsible for ensuring that the directions in the will are followed. The size and complexity of the estate will determine how much work is involved and how long it will take to complete.
Funeral and burial arrangements are handled by the executor. It is best if the executor knows the decedent’s wishes, including what arrangements have been made in advance. Did the decedent want to be buried or cremated? Do they want a religious service or a simple graveside prayer? Funeral and related expenses are at the top or near the top of the list for creditors to be paid in most states.
Wishes for funeral and burial arrangements should be documented and shared with loved ones. Wills are often not found or reviewed until days or weeks after death, when it is too late to follow the instructions. Many people use a “Letter of Intent” to share their thoughts or include them in documents such as the health care power of attorney and health care directives.
Locate the will and arrange for probate. The will must be filed with the court to begin the probate process, so the will can be recorded and deemed valid. This is done in the jurisdiction where the decedent lived at the time of death. Even if all assets pass outside of the will, the will must still go through probate. In sometimes, this is a relatively simple and painless process. Other times, it is lengthy and costly.
Work with an estate planning attorney. Unless you are experienced in this area of the law, doing it on your own is risky. Elder law and estate planning attorneys are knowledgeable about exemptions and deductions you likely aren’t aware of. They will know how to manage distributing assets among beneficiaries and head off potentially litigious situations.
Create a complete inventory of all assets, including real estate, cars, personal property, digital assets, investment accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
Contact the IRS to obtain a tax number (EIN) so you may open an estate bank account, which will pay creditors and estate expenses. Your estate planning attorney will know which debts must be paid first.
The executor should also notify Social Security and if the person was in the armed forces, the Veterans Administration to inform them of the death.
Obtain multiple originals of the death certificate, which will be needed for a number of transactions.
Reference: Pennsylvania News Today (Nov. 23, 2021) “Pre-planning–what does the executor do?”