The executor of an estate is responsible for carrying out the terms of a Will. The job of an executor of an estate may seem daunting, but the executor’s tasks aren’t difficult so long as they exercise patience, persistence, attention to detail and common sense.
The executor will usually need the services of an attorney. The attorney is familiar with the probate process, gives advice as to specific duties and obligations of the executor or executrix of the estate, and assists in dealings with the court and tax agencies.
Produce the original Will for probate
The probate process begins when the original Will, together with a death certificate is admitted for probate. The executor will be qualified and sworn in under oath to fulfill the directions of the Will. The court will issue the Letters Testamentary, the document certifying the Will. The court will also issue the Short Certificate, an important legal document the executor or executrix uses as proof of his or her authority to transfer or sell the assets of the deceased.
Gather and safeguard the estate’s assets
The executor needs an estate checking account to receive and disburse funds. The bank requires a death certificate, Short Certificate and an estate EIN (from the IRS) to open the account.
Gathering the assets of the estate is a matter of collecting information and legal documents such as deeds to real property, vehicle titles and the like. A death certificate and a Short Certificate along with an explanatory letter sent to each institution holding the decedent’s assets are sufficient to transfer the assets to the estate.
The value of the estate is based on the value of each asset as of the date of death. The taxable value of the estate is determined by the asset value minus deductible expenses such as funeral, burial, administrative expenses, attorney’s fees and the executor’s commission.
Pay the debts of the decedent including any taxes due
The executor is responsible for paying the debts of the decedent, selling a portion of the estate’s assets if needed to raise funds. There is no Federal inheritance tax, but an estate tax may be due if the value of the estate exceeds a certain amount ($675,000 as of this writing). Most states impose some form of inheritance tax. The return(s) should be filed as soon as practical to avoid interest charges and speed settlement of the estate.
Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will
Once all of the bills and taxes have been paid and the estate released, the executor will distribute all of the remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will and close out the estate.