As an executor, you have several responsibilities you must accomplish in carrying out the wishes of the deceased person. The laws in every state differ; however, there are a number of tasks that are common to nearly all jurisdictions. Carrying out these tasks properly is essential to properly settling the estate of the deceased.
Submit the Will for Probate
The executor must submit the will to the court for probate along with a copy of the death certificate for the deceased. If there is more than one version of the will, each version must be submitted to the court. Only original documents are acceptable. The court will then determine if the will is genuine and valid before authorizing the executor to distribute the estate to eligible heirs.
The executor is responsible for locating the assets of the deceased. Many assets included in a deceased's estate are evident: a home the deceased used as a primary residence and personal property, such as jewelry, automobiles and furnishings. The executor should also take over administration of financial instruments, such as stocks or bonds. The deceased may also have money deposited in out-of-state bank accounts or own real property located out of state. The executor must make a diligent attempt to locate these assets and arrange for their ancillary administration; that is, the executor takes over the management of those assets and adds them to the deceased's estate. The executor must also determine whether insurance policies, annuities, pensions and other financial assets should be included in the estate.
Settle Debts and Taxes
Before distributing the assets of the deceased, the executor must settle the financial obligations of the estate. This includes paying premiums on insurance policies and filing the final state and federal income tax returns for the deceased. The executor must also provide notice to creditors who may have a secured claim against any assets the deceased owns, such as mortgage or automobile lenders. In some states, the spouse and minor children of the deceased are entitled to a cost-of-living allowance that must also be paid from assets of the estate.
The eligible heirs to an estate are often included by name in the will. However, other eligible heirs may not be named, such as unborn children. Because a will submitted to probate is a public document, individuals may view the will and come forward, claim relation to the deceased and be entitled to a share of the estate. The executor must also reconcile the execution of multiple wills, or instances where more than one heir makes claims on a particular asset included in the estate but not designated in the will.