When a friend or family member passes, you want to provide the peace of mind in carrying out his or her last wishes. For some, this may mean serving as executor of an estate and assuring properties and assets are distributed as so desired.
Taking on this responsibility as an executor, however, can become a significant undertaking. A few key tips will help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Should You Be the Executor of an Estate?
Depending on the estate, executing it may be a challenge. From complicated property holdings to entangled familial relationships, taking on the legal responsibility for an estate’s assets is a time-intensive process that could take up to two years to see through.
If you have been asked by a friend or family member to be the executor of their will when they pass, ask yourself these questions:
● Do you have the time to take on a multi-month or year project?
● Will your life permit you enough time to attend appointments with banks, lawyers, civil court or probate?
● Are you familiar enough with basic tax calculations to take over paying taxes for the estate?
● Will you be able to uphold the requirements of the will despite emotional or legal pressure from beneficiaries?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, consider whether or not you will be able to execute the estate as the owner of the will requests. Discuss this with him or her as soon as possible, as you will not be able to refuse being an executor after the person has passed.
If you do decide to take on the role of executor, you will begin the process by bringing the will to the probate court. Probate is a legal court that both enforces the wishes of the deceased in a will and satisfies any debt he or she carried at the time of death. As the assets are distributed over the process of executing the will, you will then do so with the approval and assistance of the probate court.
5 Steps to Get Started Executing an Estate
Once you have brought the will to probate, as executor you can begin to assess accounts, settle debts, and start distributing inheritances. While this can be overwhelming, depending on the estate plan, following these five steps can keep you focused.
1) Get Your Hands on the Records. Whether the estate is handled in a traditional will and probate court or passed through a revocable trust, the friend or family member who serves as the executor must start off knowing the complete scope of assets (cash, accounts, stocks, properties, etc.) that fall under the will or trust. This may also include collecting physical assets that will be sold or distributed as part of the will.
2) Calculate Debts. Debts must be paid from the estate before any other terms of the will can be addressed, thus an executor should start by making an assessment of any remaining debts. This includes end-of-life medical care or funeral expenses. Taxes also fall under this category, as well as any ongoing expenses of maintaining property in the estate (such as utility bills while in the process of transferring or selling the property).
3) Sell Off Assets. If there are assets to be sold, such as real estate or a vehicle, this must be done and the finances added to the estate accounts. This can be a major factor that extends the length of probate, particularly if assets take time to sell. The money from the sale of assets can be used to settle remaining debts.
4) Distribute to Beneficiaries. Once the requirements of probate have been met, distributions can be made to beneficiaries. With complicated estates or troubled interpersonal dealings among beneficiaries, this step can become tricky, particularly if anyone plans to contest the will.
5) Hire Estate Plan Professionals. An estate planning professional can handle all of the steps above and more. In a difficult time in which you may not be thinking clearly or are being pressured by beneficiaries, it can be much simpler to pass off confusing legal documents to experienced professionals.
Benefits of Working with Estate Plan Professionals
Choosing to work with experienced professionals can make the process seamless. From tax questions to beneficiary distributions, hiring a professional for guidance is an important step in executing a will. Particularly in the case of complicated wills with multiple assets or unknown accounts, acting as an executor can become a full-time job – but with help, it becomes an easier process.
Stableford Capital is an investment firm with experience in creating and assisting in executing estate plans, and we are prepared to be there for you as you name your own executor and when you are named executor of an estate. To learn more or get help during this difficult time, get in touch by contacting us online or calling 480.493.2300.