You were happy to agree when your favorite uncle approached you about becoming the executor of his estate. However, you could not have foreseen his sudden demise. Now, the family is turning to you to deal with his final wishes and instructions. How do you proceed?
Distribute death certificates
As executor, your first duty will be to make funeral arrangements. The funeral home will ask how many copies of the death certificate you need. Uncle Ned’s life insurance company will want one that shows the cause of death. You will also want copies for his bank, the Social Security Administration or Veterans Administration, if applicable, investment firms and other businesses, institutions or agencies. You will also need a copy for both the IRS and the state when you file the final tax returns.
Perhaps Uncle Ned told you where his will was located; if not, his attorney may have the original. There may also be trust documents if your uncle had a full estate plan. Once you see these documents, you will know the extent of the estate and how complex your job as executor will be.
Manage assets and debts
You can open a bank account in the name of the estate to use for making deposits and paying bills, which will include the final tax payments. Remember that you are legally responsible for protecting the assets of Uncle Ned’s estate and for the distribution of those assets according to his wishes. Uncle Ned may have been organized enough to have made a list of his debts and monthly income. If not, you will have to do some investigating. Begin by going over his checkbook. Look through his mail—and email—for further clues, as well as past tax returns. Search for deeds, contracts and investment information.
Ask for help
With the sudden passing of Uncle Ned, your job as executor began much sooner than expected, and you may feel overwhelmed at first. Remember that you can seek help from professionals such as an accountant or a real estate appraiser. You may be worried about making mistakes, but an attorney can keep you on track and prevent any legal missteps while you are working on settling your relative’s estate.