Executors have a high level of responsibility for as long as the probate process drags on — which can even be years in some cases. Your main objective? Prevent estate assets from being damaged or depreciated.
You must make decisions based on the best interests of beneficiaries and creditors. Any investments you make should be prudent and conservative, even if you'd invest your own money more aggressively. Choose preventing the depletion of estate assets over working to maximize gains. If the will provides specific instructions for a certain asset, carry them out even if you disagree.
Let's go over the job of executor:
- You need to decide whether probate is necessary. If so, you can get help from the court's website.
- Notify the post office, utility companies, credit card companies, banks and any other businesses that you're the executor and that the holder of the accounts has passed.
- Open an account in the name of the estate or trust to manage assets; deposit estate income; and pay bills, taxes and probate costs. Keep records of each transaction.
- Manage the decedent's home/vacation home — you'll want to take security measures to protect the property if it's vacant. Keep up with maintenance, and be sure to make insurance and mortgage payments as well as pay utilities and property taxes.
- Keep up with vehicle loan payments, and get vehicles transferred to their intended new owners efficiently.
- Manage money and investments — stray cash that you find when going through the decedent's belongings should be placed in a sealed envelope in the presence of a witness. Review the decedent's investment portfolio to identify stocks that may be volatile. You may want to sell these stocks and put the money into investments such as government bonds or in the estate bank account.
- Manage business assets — eventually you'll need to transfer or sell a business, as outlined in the will, but you'll have to operate it in the meantime. Research the business's governing documents and state law for guidance on how to handle the decedent's interest.
- Sell assets if they're depreciating rapidly or to pay debts. Selling an asset may be inevitable if beneficiaries don't want to share the asset.
- Transfer assets to beneficiaries early before the probate case closes. Beneficiaries are no doubt eager to receive the inheritance. Keep in mind that cars and real estate risk damage or depreciation if not properly managed or maintained. Assets without much value may be transferred early if they won't impact the outcome of the probate case.
Executor duties are many and complex. You may want to hire a lawyer to help with probate paperwork and to solve any disputes among beneficiaries or creditors. The estate should pay all debts and taxes before distributing anything to beneficiaries. You may need to ask the court for permission before the transfer. State law may limit the value of the assets that you may transfer early.
This is just a summary of what can be a complex process. Work closely with attorneys and financial professionals to quickly and legally settle an estate.
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