“Just as you’re beginning the painful and exhausting process of grieving for your parent’s death, you learn that you’ve basically become secretary of his or her death,” observes Lucy Mueller of gobankingrates.com.“Being the executor of a will involves a process that’s as administrative as it is emotional,” Mueller continues, describing the appointment as executor as “a daunting undertaking, but also an honor.”  As executor, she explains, you are in charge of

  • Carrying out your late parent’s wishes for his or her estate
  • Disbursing assets
  • Settling debts
  • Letting the government know about the death

Here at Geyer & Associates, where our attorneys counsel and represent executors and personal representatives on the proper settlement of an estate, we try to minimize stress at an already difficult time.

Lucy Mueller offers a useful multi-step plan for executors:

Order 10-15 copies of the death certificate. 
You will need these to transfer ownership and operating names on accounts and for cashing in insurance policies. Death certificates are typically purchased through the funeral home, but are also available for purchase from the county or state medical examiner’s office.  In Indiana, death certificates can be obtained online at http://www.in.gov/isdh/20444.htm.
Figure out if the estate needs to go through probate.Probate is the court process of re-titling assets from the decedent to the beneficiaries.  If your parent did not set up a properly funded living trust or the assets in your parent’s individual name not passing by title or beneficiary designation exceed $50,000, Indiana requires a probate estate to be opened to officially appoint the personal representative, advertise to seek heirs and creditors, and collect and distribute assets.

Gather documents.
Locate all bank and brokerage accounts, safe deposit boxes, insurance policies, wills (including amendments and codicils to the will), trust documents, deeds, notes, statements, keys, passwords, pension statements, credit cards and statements, and any other asset or creditor information.

Read everything.
Personal papers, diaries, notes and letters can all reveal the location of property, money, and heirlooms.

Locate and inventory assets and personal property.
Hire an appraiser to determine the value of all personal and real property, and submit an inventory.

Consolidate accounts.
Close smaller bank accounts and transfer assets into the estate account.

Pay debts and taxes.
The executor is responsible for paying debts and taxes. Old credit cards must be cancelled.  If your parent was collecting Social Security benefits or a pension, notify the Social Security Administration and any pension companies of the death of your parent.

Disburse assets.
Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries, getting signed and dated receipts from them.  In the case of stocks and bonds, have the assets properly re-titled to the beneficiary’s name, making sure that the basis is reset to the date of death value to minimize capital gains taxes for the beneficiary should he or she later decide to sell the asset.

Being an executor requires time, patience, and attention to detail.  At Geyer & Associates, we provide guidance to executors and personal representatives to make the estate administration process run as smoothly as possible.

– By Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team