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You’ve Been Named As An Executor. Now What?

Wondering about your duties as an Executor of a Will? We’re here to help!

Being an Executor is a legal responsibility, as well as an opportunity to fulfill the wishes of a loved one who has passed. This can be a difficult task while you deal with the emotional stress of the situation but with the right knowledge, you can navigate through the process successfully.

Sometimes, you’re well-prepared for this duty. Other times, it lands on your shoulders unexpectedly, leaving you little time to get your bearings. Either way, we’re starting with the essentials to get you up to speed.

Understanding Estate Planning

First and foremost, you will need to get familiar with the basics of Estate Planning.

This is the process of distributing the assets of a deceased or incapacitated individual as per their wishes, as well as fulfilling any other requests they laid out in their plan. The central document in an Estate Plan is a Will — a legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets after death or Trust – A legal arrangement where assets are held and managed by a trustee for the benefit of specified individuals or entities.It can be accompanied by other documents such as:

Durable Power of Attorney: Appoints someone to manage financial and legal matters on behalf of the individual if they become incapacitated.

Living Will: Outlines an individual’s preferences for medical treatment in case they become unable to communicate or make decisions.

Letter of Instructions: Provides non-binding guidance on personal and funeral preferences, as well as details about the location of important documents.

Digital Asset Authorization: Grants authority to manage and access digital assets, including online accounts and files.

Understanding probate is also crucial. Probate is the judicial process that validates a will and oversees the distribution of the estate. This process can be lengthy and costly, but certain Estate Planning strategies can minimize or bypass it entirely.

Now that you know the basics, let’s discuss the steps you need to take as an Executor.

How To Get Started

Being the Executor of an Estate Plan can be a very daunting responsibility, so it is a good idea to seek professional guidance.

You can consult with Estate Planning attorneys to understand the process thoroughly, especially if there is a wide variety of documents to go through. For the financial distributions, you can reach out to accountants or financial advisors to ensure you are taking the right steps.

Following this, you can begin to review the Will and estate documents. This is when you read the incapacitated or deceased person’s Will and go through the Estate Plan to identify beneficiaries, assets, and other specific instructions they may have left.

Additionally, you will need to communicate with the other beneficiaries and loved ones. Keep them informed about the process and address any questions they may have.

Finally, you will need to take care of the financial and legal duties such as:

Inventory of assets: Document all of the assets that you will be dealing with in the coming time.

Probate: If required, collaborating with an attorney to ensure the process is efficient.

Taxes and debts: You will also be in charge of paying any taxes and clearing any debts the deceased person had left. This must be done before the final asset distribution.

Distribution to beneficiaries: Assets will be transferred to beneficiaries according to the Will of the deceased.

To provide a clearer understanding, let’s explore a typical timeline for an executor.

Timeline

The experience of every executor can vary, but here’s a broad timeline of what to expect:

The First Week:

·Secure the deceased’s property and ensure any pets are cared for.

·Obtain death certificates and notify relevant institutions.

·Review Estate Planning documents and determine deceased requests for final disposition of remains.

·Minor Kids? Ensure kids are in the care of appointed guardians and not in the care of a stranger.

 1 to 3 Months:

·File the Will with the probate court with the guidance of an attorney.

·Communicate with beneficiaries and obtain court affirmation.

·Notify government agencies and return Social Security payments.

·Create an inventory of assets and liabilities.

3 to 12 Months:

·File final income tax returns.

·Address outstanding debts and manage financial aspects.

·Consider asset liquidation if needed.

12 to 24 Months:

·Submit an accounting of estate transactions to the probate court, if necessary.

·Issue payments for Executor services.

·Distribute remaining assets to heirs.

Note, that this process can vary depending on assets, minor children, court requirements and whether the deceased did proper estate planning.

The Importance of the Role

Being an Executor of a Will and Estate Plan is a time-consuming role, and it comes with emotional weight from the loss, but it is important to remember that you are doing an incredibly important job.

Heath Ledger’s passing and the events that followed are good examples of the importance of an updated and well-executed Will.

In the aftermath of Heath Ledger’s passing in 2008, he had left a Will that allocated half of his estate to his parents and the other half to his two sisters. Ledger’s ex-girlfriend, Michelle Williams, gave birth to their daughter, Matilda, three years earlier in 2005, but Ledger didn’t get around to updating his Will before his death.

Under New York law, where Ledger resided and died, a child born after the execution of a parent’s Last Will is entitled to a portion of the estate even if they’re not provided for or mentioned in the Will. But the road to inheritance for Matilda was paved with potential hurdles: establishing parentage, providing proof and making a claim. This could have been a difficult and emotionally exhausting process for her.

Luckily, in this case, none of this was necessary because Ledger’s parents and sisters reportedly gifted their shares of his estate to his daughter. However, for many families, a similar situation would likely result in conflict. This makes clear the importance of an updated and well-executed Will.

Hence, if you have been given the responsibility to be the Executor of someone’s Will, keep in mind that this is also an opportunity to ensure that you do right by everyone involved, and create a positive legacy for the deceased.

You’ve Been Named as an Executor, and You Are Ready

Being named an executor is a testament to the trust placed in you by the deceased.

While the role is complex, with the appropriate guidance and resources, you are well-equipped to fulfill your responsibilities effectively. It’s important to approach the task with diligence, seeking assistance when necessary.

Feel free to contact us for any Estate Planning guidance, for the execution of your loved one’s Will, or the crafting of your own Estate Plan!

Shalini Codispoti

Shalini Codispoti is a distinguished estate planning attorney with over 18 years of experience, committed to helping families navigate the complexities of estate and trust planning. Born and raised in the multicultural backdrop of Trinidad and Tobago, Shalini's passion for law and justice was shaped early. After moving to Texas, she pursued a career in law, obtaining her degree and initially working as a litigator. Her experiences in litigation highlighted the essential need for meticulous and proactive estate planning to prevent familial conflicts and legal disputes over assets. Shalini founded Codispoti Law with a mission to provide personalized and thorough legal solutions that ensure her clients' wishes are respected and their assets protected. Her approach combines deep legal expertise with a genuine concern for the well-being of her clients, making her a trusted advisor in times of need. Her dedication extends beyond the office as she actively participates in community services, aiming to bring opportunities and legal aid to those in need.