Being named as an executor after someone has died can be intimidating. The executor of an estate, along with the courts and possibly an attorney, will be tasked with ensuring the final wishes of the deceased are carried out—and that’s no small task.
The responsibilities of an executor vary depending on the size of the estate, but generally an executor oversees the distribution of a deceased person’s property and arranges for the payment of debts and expenses. These duties apply even if a person dies before creating a will, which can make the job even more challenging.
State law differs on the requirements of who can serve as an executor, but most people name someone from the close ranks of their family—spouses, children, parents and siblings. In those cases, an executor has likely had a chance to discuss the deceased’s wishes and gather information beforehand. However, you may still be unsure where you should begin when they pass away. While situations often vary, completing these five tasks will help you get off to a good start in the role.
- Review the will
It is an executor’s responsibility to thoroughly review and understand the deceased’s will, as it often contains important instructions beyond the distribution of assets to heirs. In many cases, a will includes mention of funeral wishes. Details about whether a person wants to be cremated, where they’d like to be laid to rest, and whether they would prefer donations to be made to a specific charity in lieu of flowers can all be part of a will.
Because certain decisions about a person’s remains need to be made rather quickly after death, you need to know what the will says, if anything, about how arrangements should be handled.
- Handle the care of any dependents or pets
If the person who passed away has dependents who may be left unattended, you will need to ensure that they are being cared for in the manner that the deceased wished. Most people have already spoken with family or friends about who will care for their children, or even a dependent spouse, after they pass away. But, people tend to forget to leave instructions for the care of their pets. If you know the deceased has a pet that could be left in their home following their death, be sure to visit the home and tend to the pet until you are able to make long-term accommodations.
- Find important documents
After being named an executor, you’ll need to gather and review important documents—both personal and financial. As you’re settling matters of the estate, you may need to provide a copy of these documents upon request.
Personal documents that you should have access to include a birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate and/or divorce decree, certificates of title to vehicles, leases or deeds and social security information. In addition to these personal documents, important financial documents that you should secure include life insurance policies, any trust agreement, the latest bank account statements and investment statements.
- Check on funeral and burial arrangements or cremation
Before you begin taking any measures to plan a funeral or memorial, find out if the deceased pre-planned or prepaid for their arrangements with a funeral home. As an executor, it is your responsibility to ensure final wishes are being met, and if they’ve already begun making end-of-life decisions with a funeral director, this process will be much simpler.
However, if the will does not address this issue, talk to family members to see if they know of any pre-arrangements. If they are unsure, but the family typically uses a specific funeral home, contact that funeral home to see if any arrangements are on file.
When no arrangements have been made in advance, an executor will be tasked with determining how the funeral or cremation services will be paid for. If that money has not been set aside in the estate, many people are able to cover the costs of a funeral with life insurance proceeds. However, there are numerous alternative options for funding a funeral that the family can consider.
- Pay expenses, debts and notify creditors
One of the primary duties of an executor is paying any debts that the estate is legally required to pay. This will include continuing expenses such as mortgage payments, utility bills and homeowner’s insurance premiums. The executor will also be responsible for paying income taxes and filing an income tax return of the year in which the person died. In addition to settling debts, the executor should also notify creditors of the probate proceeding. Creditors will then be given a designated amount of time to file a claim for payment of any bills or other obligations that have not been paid by the estate.
If you’re in the process of creating your will and want to ensure your end-of-life decisions regarding your funeral are met, consider discussing pre-planning and pre-funding options with your local funeral home.
When you choose to pre-fund your final arrangements through Bevis Funeral Home, your money is put in a state-approved trust account or top-rated insurance company until it’s needed. After your pre-plan is paid in full, your price is guaranteed, so your family will never have to pay more for the items and services you’ve chosen.
Call Bevis Funeral home at 850-385-2193 to speak with one of our expert funeral directors to begin the process today.