Where Do I Even Begin In Settling an Estate?

When grieving a loved one, whether you are the executor of the estate, a beneficiary, or even just a concerned family member or friend, the idea of settling an estate can seem overwhelming.

For many, it is their first time to take on the responsibilities of this role – or any complex project of this nature – and doing so can be a tremendous source of stress. Add the exhaustion and emotional stress that comes with the death of a loved one and the executor process can be paralyzing.

Our goal at executor.org is to simplify the process for you. With an account, you’ll get customized interactive checklists and data vaults to allow you to get and stay organized, and save your work as you go over the next year or so as you complete your executor duties and settle the estate.

For better or worse, there are a number of things you’ll need to address on a fairly immediate basis. Here are six that you’ll want to make sure are being managed.

  1. Find and read the will – The will is the guiding document in this entire process. Finding it immediately will be important so that you follow the direction of the deceased from the start. Often there are instructions about the funeral in the will, including any prepaid services they have purchased to help simplify the process for surviving loved ones.
  1. Plan and manage the funeral – Planning the funeral is not a true legal requirement, but the estate will often cover the cost of funeral services. As such, the executor, as well as other family members (and even other beneficiaries), should be consulted in this process.
  1. Notify the Social Security Administration – Immediately making the Social Security Administration aware of the death will help prevent Social Security payments after death. If you do not notify the SSA immediately and additional payments are made, you will need to refund those payments, which creates additional work in settling the estate. A funeral director will often help in making this notification if you ask.
  1. Secure Estate Assets – Whether the estate is small or large, you’ll want to protect all assets. Sadly, death announcements also are often a notification to burglars that there is an easy target available to them. Get a friend, neighbor or relative to stay at the home during all funeral services. If nobody will be living in a home going forward, immediately hire a landscaper to keep the place looking cared for, stop newspaper deliveries and have the mail forwarded to the executor.
  1. Get Professional Help – Settling an estate is often complicated. Attorneys, accountants, financial planners and others can help greatly, particularly if an executor is in the role for the first or second time. It is not the job of the executor to personally close the estate, but to manage the process.
  1. Eliminate unnecessary expenses – Look for ongoing expenditures that can be quickly eliminated to save money. Things like cell phones, DirecTV, club memberships and subscriptions can be quickly eliminated. Be careful in cutting off cable and Internet providers. If they are the source of the deceased’s email address, eliminating those services could cut off your access to email (and online bill payments and paperless investment statements). This will not be an issue if the deceased has a web-based email account, like Gmail or Yahoo mail, but can be if their email address is directly from their Internet provider. These type of email addresses typically include the name of the cable or Internet provider in the email address.

The estate management process is typically a long and difficult one. For most executors, it involves 100+ steps, so signing up for an executor.org account today will greatly simplify the process – including helping you accomplish these six tasks above. Some of the timing can be mandated by the courts in the probate process. For other steps, you can move at your own pace.

However, you’ll want to complete the six steps above quickly to get the process moving in the right direction.