The executor of a will is responsible for carrying out the instructions in the will that explain how to distribute the deceased person's estate, according to FindLaw. Usually, an executor is chosen by the person making the will, although in some cases a probate court appoints an executor. Although you can carry out your duties as executor without an attorney's guidance, consider hiring an attorney if the estate is particularly large or if you expect the will to be contested.
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Obtain a copy of the deceased person's last will and testament. You may need to contact the deceased person's family members or attorney in order to find the will. Once you have obtained a copy of the will, read it carefully.
File a copy of the will with the probate court. In most jurisdictions, you are required to file with the probate court even if the will does not need to be probated, according to FindLaw. A will only needs to be probated if there is a dispute regarding the will's validity. If there is a dispute, you will have to defend the validity of the will in court, and may hire an attorney. If there is no dispute, you may proceed with carrying out the instructions given in the will.
Obtain copies of the deceased person's death certificate. You will need the death certificate to prove to banks, government agencies and other authorities that the deceased person has passed and that you, as executor, may handle the deceased person's assets.
Contact the beneficiaries of the estate, if you have not already done so. Although executors are not required in most states to keep the beneficiaries informed of their work on the estate, doing so may help you avoid conflicts and will contests in the future. Update your contact information with the beneficiaries as needed.
Find the deceased person's assets. The assets may or may not be listed in the will, and the list in the will may not be accurate. Common assets include bank accounts, investment portfolios, insurance policies and retirement accounts, as well as tangible items like real estate and personal belongings. As executor, your job is to keep these assets safe until you can determine who is to receive them under the will. If necessary, have assets appraised and make an inventory. You may also need to re-title some assets, like vehicles, in the name of the estate so that they may be passed to the beneficiary who is to receive them.
Set up a bank account in the name of the estate. In most states, the executor is required to keep the estate's funds separate from his own money, according to FindLaw. A bank account in the name of the estate helps you ensure the estate's money does not mingle with yours, and makes it easier to pay any debts the estate owes.
Pay the debts still owed by the estate. Usually, these debts include medical bills for a last illness or injury, funeral costs and burial expenses. They also include the final tax bills owed by the estate. In some states, you are required to inform some or all of a deceased person's creditors that she has passed away. An attorney can help you determine which creditors you must contact. You are required to pay the estate's debts before you distribute the assets remaining in the estate to the beneficiaries listed in the will.
Distribute the estate's assets to the beneficiaries and close the estate. Most states have a time limit beyond which creditors cannot bring claims against an estate. Waiting until this deadline has passed ensures that you do not accidentally give beneficiaries the assets that should have gone to pay a debt owed by the estate.