Acting as Executor of a Parent's Will

By Tom Streissguth

If your parent has chosen you to serve as an executor, you have a legal responsibility to see that the terms of his will are carried out. This work entails a series of tasks that ensure your parent’s wishes are carried out, and that the estate is administered according to the laws of your state. At all times, you must proceed with diligence and honesty, and meet problems as they arise, or else the estate can be tangled up in costly litigation for a long time.


Once you have located and read the will, you must gather information on the estate: the investments, accounts, and property belonging to the deceased. The will should detail estate property, and list all of its agents or custodians. You must contact these agents and anyone else that handled your parent’s legal or financial affairs and inform them of the death. If your parent granted power of attorney to anyone, you must contact this individual and notify him as well; POAs always expire on the death of the grantor. You must also contact insurance companies with whom your parent had life, health and property policies and ensure that any contracted payouts are received.


You must provide a copy of the will to named beneficiaries. If the beneficiaries cannot be located, the laws of your state determine how estate assets should be distributed to heirs. You should also cancel any credit cards in your parent’s name, wind up leases, cancel driver's licenses, and notify banks, utility companies, the post office, and the Social Security Administration and any other government agencies with which your parent had business. Some of these agencies will require a copy of the death certificate, which you can secure from your county's vital records division.

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You must file the will in probate court, a civil court of the state or county where you live. In most states, a will must be filed in probate even if probate proceedings are unnecessary -- for example, if the will is associated with a valid trust that your parent set up. The probate court allows you to proceed with distributing the assets, and decides on any requests, motions and disclaimers from the beneficiaries or from anyone having a claim on the estate.


Acting as executor for your parent's estate also means setting up a bank account for the purpose of paying expenses and settling with creditors and lienholders. Out of the estate assets, you must pay any valid debts, including past-due income taxes and personal loans. You must also file a final federal and state income tax return, on which you must follow the law regarding estate and inheritance taxes. The services of an experienced tax advisor can be essential when filing and paying taxes.


The final step is the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries. This can only be done once the probate case is closed, valid debts are settled and any other expenses are paid out of the estate. In the case of land, homes, cars, boats and other real property, you must supervise a legal transfer of title. You gather receipts from the beneficiaries for the transfer of any other property, and you send any checks, money orders or bank transfers via certified mail with a return receipt requested. Finally, after the transfers are fully documented, you close the estate bank account and gather all relevant paperwork in a place for safekeeping.

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