Let’s pretend that an unfortunate event occurs in your life, and you are pronounced dead. Now what?
Your family and friends grieve from the loss, and hopefully, you took some actions while you were of “sane mind and body,” to manage your estates for inheritance. For example:
- You created your Last Will and Testament (LWT), generally called the Will and along with it your Advance Directives
- You checked and updated your beneficiaries for all of your assets that can be processed outside Probate
- You had a conversation with your loved ones about your wishes – or if you weren’t up to discussing it during Thanksgiving, you left them notes and told them where to find them
Usually, the surviving spouse bears the weight of taking care of loose ends, usually with the help of an adult child or an advisor like a lawyer or accountant.
Why do you need an Executor?
Your affairs still need to be closed out even though you are not alive. Your bills need to be paid, your accounts closed, your taxes returns filed and your assets distributed to your inheritors. Someone has to take care of all this and it usually falls to the Executor.
Who is your Executor?
If you are single or widowed, you may select a child, relative, friend or an advisor as your Executor. This is someone you name in your Last Will and Testament (LWT), generally called the Will. Hopefully, you’ve had some discussions with the person you selected and they know where your Will is and what your wishes are.
The Executor once approved by the Court, functions essentially as you. He or she can sign agreements on your behalf, close accounts, and so forth – like you could have when you were alive.
Immediate duties of the Executor
The first thing an Executor might do is arrange for your burial or cremation. If you already made plans for this you’ve communicated this to the Executor or your children or clergy, so they know what to do.
Certificate of Death
The funeral home, medical examiner, hospice or someone who can verify your body is no longer functioning, will issue a Certificate of Death. The Executor will usually need several certified copies of this document as every bank, financial institution and government agency will require this as proof.
Getting recognized as the Executor
Usually, when the dust is settled, so to speak and you are no longer to be found, the Executor files a Probate application with your Will and your Certificate of Death with the County of your primary residence. Yes, along with the appropriate filing fees.
The Court will issue a Grant of Probate to the Executor. With your Will, Certificate of Death and Grant of Probate, the Executor functions essentially as you. He or she can sign agreements on your behalf, close accounts, and so forth – just like you could have when you were alive.
The Executor and/or your attorney will continue to connect with the Court from time to time until your estate is closed. These interactions may be as simple as the initial step of getting the Court to recognize the Will as valid and getting a “Grant of Probate” but, may require providing regular updates to the Court.
What the Executor can expect upon your death
The days following your leaving will be somewhat chaotic no matter how much effort you put into crafting the details and ensuring everyone knows what to do!
Why? Your loved ones will grieve no matter what and in the course of their grief they may make some irrational decisions! But, because you left detailed instructions, they can always rely on it.
If you didn’t leave a Will, the Executor (or someone who needs to close out your affairs) still has to file the Probate Application in the country of your primary residence. In some cases the Probate Process can take anywhere from 4 months to upwards of 2 years depending on your State. To learn more about Probate click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2 of the guide.
The more you can do to clarify your wishes and take action NOW, the sooner your estate can be settled. Your family, whom you care about so much, can move on with their lives.
During the weeks after your death the Executor has to find all your creditors (people and companies you owe money to), payoff your bills, close your accounts, file your final tax return (yes – this is a requirement), and distribute any leftover monies or assets to your inheritors. The leftover assets will be distributed according to your Will or according to the Intestate Laws of your State. Interested in learning more about Wills? Check out this guide.
The Executors are usually a spouse, adult child or relative and usually do not get paid unless it is a large estate and it is agreed upon ahead of time or during the Probate process.
Some references for Executor’s are:
The Executor’ Guide, Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust, Mary Randolph, J.D. Nolo
Checklist for Family Survivors, A Guide to Practical and Legal Matters When Someone You Love Dies, Sally Balch Hurme, AARP/ABA Publishing
Do you like this article? Let me know your #1 takeaway in the comments section below.
Jasmine Alexander is the Founder and CEO of www.jazmine.com, an online organizer that safely stores personal records, account numbers, ownership documents and everything in between. Jasmine has a B.S. in Computer Science from New York University and a M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Download Your Free One Page Checklist – “Get Your Will and Advance Directives done in 55 minutes!”