Top 10 Tips for Executors

Patrick O’Brien

Executor.org was created to help you navigate your role as an executor. Our step-by-step plan walks you through the process to help you better understand the role and perform better in it. 

Executor.org’s Top Ten Tips For New Executors

1. Know What You’ve Gotten Yourself Into (It’s a LOT of Work)

So you’ve been named an executor of an estate, but what does that really entail? An executor is a representative of the estate of a deceased person. An executor can be legally responsible for the final administration of the deceased’s estate (also called decedent’s estate) according to the rules in place where the deceased resided.

An executor is responsible for everything from obtaining a copy of the will and filing it with the probate court to communicating with beneficiaries, creditors and professionals who can help with the estate.  There is no set timeline for how long an executor’s duties will last. You need to plan that it will take at least a year, possibly more.

2. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate

As an estate executor, you probably know that you will have to work with the administration of an estate by communicating with probate court officials, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and, of course the beneficiaries. Make a point of communicating regularly, and keep notes of every communication you have with anyone involved with the administration of the estate.

3. Get the Right Professional Team in Place

An executor will see some complicated documents such as wills and trusts early in his/her service as an executor. Later in the administration of the estate, items may need to be appraised and sold. It can seem overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. In fact, in most cases you really should not undertake the process by yourself unless you are a professional who does this day in and day out. Executor duties often include consulting with an attorney, an accountant, a funeral director, a real estate agent, an appraiser, an auctioneer, etc. It may even be a part of the deceased’s will that professionals help. When contacting these people, the executor should remember the estate will take care of the fees charged by these professionals.

4. Get Organized and Keep Meticulous Records

An executor has a lot to keep up with and manage. From financial documents to death certificates and everything in between, the paperwork can seem overwhelming. That is why it is so important to stay organized. Make a list of things that need to be done and once they are complete, put notes and documentation in a filing system. You should be making notes each time you correspond with someone regarding the estate. You may even need to spend time each week maintaining your filing system and checking items off the to-do list so you don’t get overwhelmed.

5. Think Like a Detective (Where are Things Hidden?)

An executor may receive a well-organized file with all the information he or she needs to know about the estate. But often, an executor needs to look through many drawers and notebooks for the pertinent information. Look in obvious places like desks, file cabinets and safe deposit boxes, but don’t forget that even the incoming mail can tell you more about the estate. If you get a bank statement or stock dividend check, you now know those accounts are out there.

6. Be Transparent. Send Regular Updates to All Beneficiaries

It is important to communicate with beneficiaries often. They want to know that you are working on the estate. A regular update can put them at ease about the progress or inform them of any delays. Remember that everyone involved in the process, especially people named in the will, want to hear from you on a regular basis. Even if it’s just a quick update, it is best to let everyone know what’s going on.

7. Cut Unneeded Expenses as Quickly as Possible

Responsibilities of an executor include protecting the assets of the estate. If unnecessary expenses keep draining the deceased’s accounts, you are not doing your job. Even little expenses can add up quickly. Cancel the home and cell phone of the deceased, cancel magazine subscriptions and club memberships, cancel television and internet services, and the list goes on.

8. Do Not Distribute Assets of Any Kind Until Debts are Paid

No matter how much you may want to begin the process of distributing assets according to the will, creditors must be paid first. Even if a beneficiary asks for something as small as a painting on the wall or a nominal sum of money to help get to the next paycheck, you cannot distribute any assets of the estate to beneficiaries until the court directs you to do so.

9. Be Deliberate. Be Thoughtful, Not Speedy, After the Initial Flurry of Activity

Generally speaking, an executor must act with “good faith.” If an executor is found to not act according to this standard there may be legal repercussions. The court often gives an executor a good amount of time to accomplish the tasks of estate administration. It is okay to take your time and make sure things are done correctly. Most who are named executors had a relationship with the deceased and it is perfectly all right to take time to grieve too.

10. Be Fair, Keeping the Will and Wishes of the Deceased as Your Guides

There are a lot of competing demands on an executor. The court will give you directions, but the interests of creditors and beneficiaries are often at odds. Even the interests of beneficiaries can be at odds with each other. This may all boil over to affect you. Remember that as executor your employer, so to speak, is the decedent. His/her wishes are your guide as outlined in the will.

Our site, executor.org can assist you through each step of the executor role. We will assist you in understanding the duties and responsibilities of an executor at each step along the way. We’ll help you track your progress, and you can utilize our spreadsheets to keep track of important financial details. It’s a wonderful tool to help you in your executor duties. And, since you can save your work, you can start today and just do a little at a time, as you are able to do so. Think of it as an executor checklist — but a lot more helpful!  Click here to get started now.