Dear Savvy Senior,
An old family friend recently asked me to be the executor of his will when he dies. I feel flattered that he asked, but I’m not sure what exactly the job entails. What can you tell me?
Serving as the executor of your friend’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a huge chore. Here’s what you should know to help you prepare.
Rules and Responsibilities
As the executor of your friend’s will, you’re essentially responsible for winding up his affairs after he dies. While this may sound simple enough, you need to be aware that the job can be tedious, time consuming and difficult depending on the complexity of his financial and family situation. Some of the duties required include:
• Filing court papers to start the probate process (this is generally required by law to determine the will’s validity).
• Taking an inventory of everything in his estate.
• Using his estate’s funds to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.
• Handling details like terminating his credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of his death.
• Preparing and filing his final income tax returns.
• Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in his will.
Be aware that each state has specific laws and timetables on an executor’s responsibilities. Your state or local bar association may have an online law library that details the rules and requirements. The American Bar Association website also offers guidance on how to settle an estate. Go to americanbar.org and type in “guidelines for individual executors and trustees” to find it.
If you agree to take on the responsibility as executor of your friend’s estate, your first step is to make sure he has an updated will, and find out where all his important documents and financial information are located. Being able to quickly put your hands on deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after he dies will save you a lot of time and hassle.
If he has a complex estate, you may want to hire an attorney or tax account to guide you through the process, with the estate picking up the cost. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (naepc.org) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) are great resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.
Find out if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of your friend’s estate. If there are some potential problems, you can make your job as executor much easier if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and why. So ask your friend to tell his beneficiaries what they can expect. This includes the personal items, too, because wills often leave it up to the executor to dole out heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, suggest he make one and put it in writing.
As the executor, you’re entitled to a fee paid by the estate. In most states, executors are entitled to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which usually ranges anywhere from 1 to 5 percent depending on the size of the estate. But, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee. That’s because fees are taxable, but most states don’t tax inheritances.
For more information on the duties of an executor, get a copy of the book “The Executor’s Guide: Settling A Loved One’s Estate or Trust” for $32 at nolo.com or call 800-728-3555.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.