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The Role of an Executor: How to Navigate Your Loved One’s Will

After a loved one passes, your life without them may feel foreign and unfamiliar; the path forward, an uncharted and daunting task. Now imagine, on top of the frenzy of emotion and grief you’re facing in your loved one’s wake, you’ve been informed you’re the executor of their will. If this is your first time as an executor, you may be uncertain about your next steps and have questions about your responsibilities. First, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. While you’ll have many duties as an executor, you do not have to shoulder these tasks without help. Seek guidance from professionals and lean on family members for support. Then, when you’re ready to move forward and execute the will, follow these steps:

Death Certificate

After being named an estate executor, your first responsibility is to acquire copies of your loved one’s death certificate. Death certificates are provided by the funeral home. Ensure you ask for multiple copies because you’ll need to provide a copy of their death certificate for several tasks. These responsibilities include filing life insurance claims and tax returns, gaining access to financial accounts, and notifying related organizations (such as the Social Security Administration) of your loved one’s passing.

Funeral Arrangements

If your loved one outlined any instructions for their funeral, your job as the executor is to ensure their wishes are carried out. Communicating with the funeral home and coordinating burial plans fall under your responsibilities.

Create an Estate Account

You’ll need to set up a bank account for the estate that contains all of the financial assets that are owed to your deceased loved one, including paychecks, dividend payments, and tax refunds. All related expenses (e.g., burial costs, IRS, and creditors) will be paid from this account.

Correspond with Affiliated Parties

Your loved one’s credit card company, bank, and mortgage company all need to be notified about their passing. If they were collecting Social Security, Medicare, or veterans’ benefits, the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs will need to be alerted. You may be asked to provide their death certificate to close those accounts.

Pay Ongoing Expenses and Debts

Because ongoing expenses are not listed within a will, it’s easy to overlook this responsibility as an executor. However, until the estate is fully settled, you’re responsible for paying the mortgage, utility bills, insurance premiums, and other day-to-day expenses (using the estate bank account). If your loved one left behind residual debts, you’ll need to communicate with creditors and settle the outstanding dues. All debts must be resolved before any assets can be distributed to the will’s beneficiaries.

Probate Court

“Probate” is a term that describes the legal management of an individual’s estate after they pass. Likewise, probate court is a branch of the judicial system that oversees the handling of estates and will execution. To begin the process, you’ll need to file your loved one’s will with the court. While some cases allow for assets to be distributed to heirs without probate, filling in probate court is required in most states.

Locate and Manage Asset Distribution

One of your main responsibilities as executor is to manage your loved one’s assets until their estate is settled. This duty can include deciding which belongings to sell and which to distribute to heirs. You’ll also be in charge of contacting all beneficiaries listed in the will and informing them of their inheritance and designated property.

File Income Tax Return

An income tax return needs to be filed for the period from the first date of the tax year until your loved one’s date of death.

Seek Support from Professionals, Family, and Friends

The grief of a loved one’s passing is overwhelming on its own. Navigating their will and ensuring their wishes are carried out is a tremendous responsibility added on top of loss and heartbreak. During this difficult time, seeking support from family and friends is crucial – you do not need to have all the answers and shoulder this immense task alone. Additionally, if it’s your first time as an executor, it can be highly beneficial to seek legal and financial advice from professionals, such as estate attorneys, accountants, or insurance agents.

Handling the affairs of your loved one’s estate can be demanding, regardless of whether you’ve been through the process before. As you tackle your list of duties, proper guidance from professionals and loving support from family members make all the difference. At HereAfter, our service is founded on the belief that love and reassurance in times of grief are necessary to move forward. Creating a vault allows you to not only share heartfelt memories with others after you pass; it can also be a platform for you to provide information about your estate plans. Don’t let your story go untold and ensure all your end-of-life wishes are carried out. Visit our “How It Works” page to learn more.

Helpful Links

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
Phone number: 988

North Carolina

HopeLine: Crisis Line for North Carolina
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