Posted on July 21, 2015 by Tim Lee
When you are named as executor after someone has died, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Ideally, the deceased told you in advance that they were planning to name you as executor and you had a chance to discuss their wishes and gather information. But that is not always the case and even if it is, you probably still have some anxiety about taking on the role. So where should you begin? Situations can certainly vary. But completing the following five items will help you get off to a good start in the role.
In many cases the will comes into play later in the process, when it is time to distribute any assets to the heirs. But you will want to get a look at it as soon as possible to see if it includes any mention of funeral wishes. Details about whether a person wants to be cremated, where they wish to be laid to rest, whether they would prefer donations to be made to a specific charity in lieu of flowers, etc., can all be part of a will. Since certain decisions about a person’s remains need to be made rather quickly after death, you need to know what the will says, if anything, about how funeral arrangements should be handled.
You need to know if the deceased pre-planned their funeral and/or prepaid for any services. Many funeral homes – regardless of whether someone prepays – will plan a funeral with someone and keep those wishes on file until the person dies. As executor, you want to make sure those wishes are followed. In cases where a funeral was paid for in advance, you need to make sure estate money isn’t used to pay for another. If the will does not address this issue, talk to family to see if they know if pre-arrangements were made. If they don’t know of any, ask them if the family typically uses a specific funeral home and contact that funeral home to see if any arrangements are on file. Or if family members are typically buried in a particular cemetery, see if the individual purchased a plot there. If the deceased had an estate attorney, see if he or she is aware of any plans or wishes.
When someone dies, funeral arrangements are usually widely shared via newspapers, online sites, social media, friends and loved ones. This means a lot of people will know that the deceased’s home will be empty during these visitation and funeral hours. Have someone stay at the home during services or install adequate security. Remember that the risk will continue after the funeral if the person lived alone. Another issue to consider is home maintenance. What might start as a small leak in a pipe can create major damage in a home if no one is there to catch it. Make sure someone is checking on the home frequently and any telltale signs of an empty home – overgrown grass, newspapers and mail piling up – are not present.
In the process of managing and closing an estate, you likely will be in close contact with the deceased’s loved ones and beneficiaries. You can get off to a good start in the role by sitting down with them and mapping out a basic plan of action. This will help give you a sense of what they expect and what you can expect from them, such as whether they will be helpful throughout the process, what concerns they have and whether disputes are brewing. This is a chance for you to connect with them and show that you plan to be honest and transparent in your actions regarding the estate.
When you are an executor, some things need to be done quickly. But it’s important to prioritize and remember that the bereavement process is important and necessary. All involved need some time to grieve and might not be able to jump right into action mode, so patience is important. As a new executor, you might be feeling stressed about how to proceed. And yes, there is much to be done. But by starting with the above five tasks, you will be off to an excellent start.
Patrick O’Brien is CEO and co-founder of executor.org, a powerful free, online tool that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The tool includes a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.