5 Things You Need to Do as an Executor of an Estate

5 Things You Need to Do as an Executor of an Estate 956x538 blog


  1. Review the will
  2. Handle the care of any dependents or pets
  3. Find important documents
  4. Check on funeral and burial arrangements or cremation
  5. Pay expenses, debts and notify creditors

[Edited transcript]

1. Review the will

Janice:             Okay well they open it up talking about how becoming an executor can be a little intimidating. Sometimes, most of the time it’s really your first time ever doing it. They talk about a little bit of state law different and requirements of who can serve and so there’s definitely some information in here where they’re telling you, you really need to look into it.

Janice:             You know figure out the requirements in your area. But the first thing though, you’re going to do, is to review the will if the person who passed away had a will. You want to thoroughly review it and understand it. What was in it? Were there funeral wishes inside of it? Does the person want to be cremated? Would they like to be laid to rest? What would they like in lieu of flowers? So you would definitely want to get your hands on that right away and look through it and really read it. Which, I have a question for you Anthony.

Janice:             Where’s a good place for somebody to keep it?

Anthony:            Cool good question. So the way it works in New York at least is there’s three choices for storing your will. First choice is to keep it yourself. That’s not a good idea and the reason that’s not a good idea is because, excuse me, if the will is lost while it’s in your possession, while the chain of custody is in your possession, then it’s presumed that you intentionally destroy it. That’s the legal presumption and we can’t use a copy. That will is gone basically.

Janice:             That’s a problem.

Anthony:            So that’s, option one is no good. Option two is to leave it with a third-party like a, usually your attorney has a vault or safe for wills. Or you know maybe your CPA, your financial advisor. Obviously I think it makes more sense to just leave it with your attorney. That’s the option I generally promote and attorneys usually do this without charging you any fee. They just have a vault.

Anthony:            I mean this is kind of part of the practice of being a state attorney. And again, the upside is if, for example, the attorney loses it or his office burns to the ground for whatever reason he can use a PDF, a copy. And a company and affidavits say, “Hey this is what happened. My office burned, but since the attorney doesn’t have the authority to revoke your will there’s no legal presumption that the will was revoked.

Janice:             Interesting.

Anthony:            And the last option in New York is to store it with the court. I think it costs 25 or $30 here in New York to sort with the court. The upside is that it’s a public depository so everyone knows to look there. Right? In terms of you know your-

Janice:             Yep.

Anthony:            The downside is it’s a quasi-public record. And so far that if you make subsequent changes to your will you might have to notify the people named in your prior wills which, I don’t know that’s kind of a, why add that onus to yourself.

Janice:             Right, right.

Anthony:            But staying on this point about reviewing the will I would actually rephrase this if I was them to review burial documents. And in some states, in many states, that would be in your will ’cause this is not about reviewing the will for who gets what really. What they’re saying is review the will for any instructions regarding funeral arrangements, burial, cremation and that sort of thing.

Anthony:            But in many states there are separate, I mean they don’t do that in the will anymore is the bottom line. They do it in separate estate planning documents that are called the burial instruction or disposition of remains. So I would sort of rephrase it that way.

Janice:             Okay. So really get your hands on the information and read it before you start making decisions and what to do.

2. Handle the care of any dependents or pets

Anthony:            Very good. All right number two is handle the care of any dependents or pets. I would actually put this before looking for the will because you know if you have-

Janice:             It might be important.

Anthony:            You have an infant in the basinet you need to get there before you start looking for a will.

Janice:             Agree with you.

Anthony:            I’m not much a pet guy, but I understand you need to make sure that the animals are fed and cared for. I mean you need to find a new home for them. A side note, we did have a client who passed away with a informal shelter on his property and we had to, I was the executor on that one, I had to help relocate, I think it was 250 cats. That was interesting.

Janice:             Wow.

Anthony:            So that’s I guess an extreme example I think.

Janice:             But that’s very interesting. Wow. How long did that take?

Anthony:            A long time. Remember Gina she handled most of that. Thank you for Gina.

Janice:             Oh my goodness. That’s amazing. Wow. Okay.

Anthony:            But yeah dependents, even if it’s not an infant you know a junior high schooler or even a toddler you need to get those kids into the hands of the right guardians ASAP. Yeah.

Janice:             Absolutely. That’s I think the first thing you should do.

Anthony:            And that’s actually a huge topic. We’ll record separately just to dealing with that. That’s a very important issue obviously.

3. Find important documents

Janice:             Yes. Finding important documents. We touched about this a little in the beginning. We want to find the documents, but in addition to, like you said, the will and the burial instructions. We have to find the personal and financial documents including birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate and or divorce decree. Really any type of financial document that you could think of, you might need.

Janice:             So you have to find all that. And what I found interesting when reading this one to prepare for us talking as I thought, “Oh boy I really need to get my act together and put all this in one place because if an executor goes to look for this they’re gonna be sifting through quite a bit of information. So on the flip side of the executor, may not be a bad idea to have it organized in advanced.

Anthony:            So Janice addressing your personal comment.

Janice:             Yeah.

Anthony:            My experience, again, I’ve been executor I think over 200 maybe 300 times at this point.

Janice:             Yes.

Anthony:            It’s never gonna be organized enough. So my advice is don’t spend your life trying to organize for your distant future death. Just live your life and be reasonably organized and have a good executor figure it out because, okay, I have had cases where the person who passed away had like stickied all their property. Color-coded like they basically tagged their property for an estate sale before they passed away and it had binders, tabs. I mean that’s stuff, those were super organized. I will give them that, but the amount of time they must’ve spent doing that I mean it’s probably outweighed, in my opinion, the value of living your life.

Janice:             Right. I’m thinking maybe a ten minute clean up job in my binder over there, just so it’s kind of maybe all in the same spot. Maybe five or ten minutes, but that’s about it. That’s kind of what I’m thinking for preparing and planning.

Anthony:            Yeah, but to summarize the point here, find important documents, the executor needs to be able to find anything related to what you owned. Anything related to what you owe and anything whether it’s to taxes. Right? And then anything else [inaudible 00:07:30]. Legal documents, trusts, wills, divorce decrees as mentioned. You know everything else can be pulled from public record or as needed.

4. Check on funeral and burial arrangements or cremation

Janice:             Yes. So check on funeral and burial arrangements or cremation. We talked about this in the beginning. Some people do leave specific burial instructions. The article gives different scenarios. Whereas they have already left all of their wishes. Maybe even prepaid for their funeral. So that information will be there. However, some people don’t. If that’s the case talk to the family. And maybe if you’re not a family member as an executor, talk to their family. Maybe the deceased has left information said to somebody. “I would prefer this to happen at my funeral or to be cremated.”

Janice:             Just really just talking to them. And then if no arrangements have been made you just want to really look, let me see here, no arrangements have been made in advance talk to the funeral home cremation services and see how it’s gonna be paid for. So there’s, seems like there’s a lot inside of this one, but really start with what were their wishes? Did they write them down? Go with that.

Anthony:            Cool. You covered that very well Janice so I’m just going to add some info based on experience. For anyone who is wondering how much should a funeral cost, so be aware that you are in a grieving period and there are some businesses that might take advantage. I don’t know how to put that.

Janice:             Yeah.

Anthony:            So let me give you some ranges here. I have done cremations and simple funerals that in total cost I think $500. Okay. And I have seen funerals that have cost over $50000. Right. I mean in New York City in the five boroughs the typical funeral cost will be in the range of about 10000. And that’s split between actually handling the bodily remains. You know casket and embalming and whatnot and catering and whatnot for the service.

Anthony:            But if you do an intimate service at home and you do what’s called a direct cremation which is everything handled legitimately according to mental hygiene, health laws, but you’re just cremating the remains and putting them in a simple container, right? It can literally be less than a $1000.

Janice:             Wow.

Anthony:            So in case anyone needs and doesn’t, I mean who knows. It’s not something that’s talked about, right? You know price shopping for funerals.

5. Pay expenses, debts and notify creditors

Anthony:            All right. The final item, pay expenses, debts and notify creditors and yes this is the sort of the second leg of your duties as an executor. Your first leg is to collect all the assets. Right? Find the bank accounts, sell the real estate whatnot. Get the car. And this leg is making sure you identity all the debts, credit cards, I guess mortgage, what have you. As well as taxes. That’s the big one. Uncle Sam is front of the line.

Janice:             Yes. Taxes very important.

Anthony:            Do you have anything to add on that last one Janice?

Janice:             I don’t. With anything I would say you know speak to the attorney that’s also involved. If you have any questions on how you handle something or pay something you can definitely talk to them and get the correct way to do it if you have any questions, but you know I always say just go with a professional. Talk to the professional and get some help if you need.

Anthony:            Right that’s absolutely true. There’s a lot of folks will, a lot of creditors will come after the families kind of aggressively and there are ways to staunch that and to put them in their place with professional advice.



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