The final wishes of a person after death are found in his will, and are carried out by the person he named as executor. Once the person dies, the executor is left with the responsibility of settling the final affairs of the deceased's estate. The legal authority the executor needs in order to act is granted through proceedings in probate court.
Filing for Probate
The executor named in the will is responsible for filing a petition for probate, although he may hire an attorney for assistance. Probate is the legal proceeding used to "validate" the will and give proof of authority to the executor. Exact court requirements vary by state, but the executor typically must locate and notify all persons named in the will, any legal heirs and all secured and unsecured creditors of the deceased person. Hearings and a trial may be held to decide the matter if the heirs contest the will or the executor's appointment. The executor must attend the court proceedings and comply with court requests.
Make Inventory and Creditor List
The executor must provide the court with an accurate inventory list. The list must include any real estate the deceased person owned -- with market value as evidenced by a professional appraisal. Any financial accounts, like bank accounts and retirement savings, must be listed with account number and current balances. The make, model, year and value of vehicles has to be noted, along with the condition. Personal household items, like appliances, may be assigned a total value as set forth in the state probate laws. Expensive items, like jewelry, typically have to be described and given a market value. The executor also compiles a list of creditors and the debt owed.
The executor needs to secure and protect the estate's assets. For example, a mortgage on a home the deceased person owned must be paid to avoid loss of the asset due to foreclosure, and/or an item that may be damaged by weather, like an expensive car, must be stored or covered.
A will may contain specific bequests, when certain items are left to particular persons, or general bequests, like a will that leaves all property of the deceased person to his children. Specific bequests must be followed by the executor. For example, a house left to a child has to be transferred by the executor to that child on a deed, the legal document used to show ownership of real estate. General bequests are usually fulfilled at the discretion of the executor. For example, she may sell all of the assets of the estate and divide the money among the heirs in the share proportions dictated in the will.
File a Final Account
A final account of the disposition of the deceased person's assets must be filed in the probate court. The executor must note what assets were sold, what amount was gained from the sale and what items were transferred to heirs along with supporting documentation. Signed releases from each heir may be required. The releases indicate that the heir has received his share and he is releasing the executor from liability.
File a Tax Return
The executor may have to file state and federal tax returns for the estate if the value of the estate is high enough to be taxed. If tax filing is not required, the executor may have to file an affidavit in probate court swearing that a tax filing is not necessary.