Accept Appointment and Obtain Letters Testamentary
Once the estate has been opened for probate in the Utah county where the decedent lived, the executor who is named in the will is appointed by the probate court. At the appointment or soon after, the court issues letters testamentary. Letters testamentary are copies of a one-page document stating that the executor has authority to act on behalf of the decedent with regard to settling the estate. The letters testamentary allow the executor to provide proof that he has the power to act on the deceased behalf. The executor receives letters testamentary when he formally accepts the position in writing. If the decedent died without a will, the court appoints a representative who must also accept the appointment in writing.
Secure the Decedent’s Property
Death is often a traumatic time for the decedent’s family. The executor should act quickly to secure the estate against vandalism and prevent family members from taking items from the estate. Even if the decedent’s will assigns property to beneficiaries, they must wait to claim the property until the final stage of estate settlement: The distribution of gifts. If a relative is currently living in the house, or the decedent is survived by a spouse, the executor does not have authority to deny them access to the home and property. If the spouse impairs the executor’s ability to perform duties, the executor may hire an attorney to assist. In many cases, the executor is the surviving spouse.
The executor should send a notification to a newspaper and immediate family members. The notification tells interested parties that the estate has been opened for settlement, and it names the executor. After the announcement, the executor becomes the primary contact for all parties with an interest in the estate. The executor must keep a record of all parties claiming an interest, and must eventually determine the validity of such claims.
Inventory and Organize
The executor’s primary role is to organize the decedent’s assets, pay all debts and distribute gifts and the remainder to beneficiaries and heirs. Good organization and accounting skills are critical. Itemizing personal property is a daunting task, which is why Utah does not allow an estate to be closed sooner than four months after the decedent’s death. After listing all property, the executor organizes the debts against the estate. Collecting the information necessary to inventory assets and organize debts may require conferring with the decedent’s family.
Collect Money Owed
The executor is empowered to collect money owed to the decedent. This may include final pay from a job, dividends, insurance policy benefits, distributions from interest-bearing accounts, royalties and retirement benefits. Some payments cease upon death, but amounts due and unpaid when the decedent died are often collectible. Insurance benefits assigned to a beneficiary pass outside probate, and the executor is not involved.
The executor pays the decedent’s debts, often including funeral expenses, from the estate assets. In some cases, debt is higher than the cash assets. If all cash is depleted and debts are still outstanding, the executor has the authority to sell personal property to pay the decedent’s debts. Gifts that are intended for beneficiaries are sold after exhausting all other means to pay debts from estate assets.
Local, state and federal tax returns are filed by the executor on behalf of the decedent. Final taxes are sometimes complex and vary greatly by personal situation. It is wise to hire a tax professional to assist.
Distribute Gifts and Inheritance
The final stages of estate settlement include distributing gifts to beneficiaries and allocating other inheritance to heirs. If there is no will, Utah probate law determines how assets in the estate are distributed. When all debts are paid and assets are given, the executor petitions the court to close the estate and release him from duties.