If you just found out that you have been named an executor or trustee, don't panic. While the process can be intimidating, you don't have to do everything at once and there are professionals who can help you with the process.
Following are some of your responsibilities:
Locate estate planning documents, including the will and trust documents, and obtain multiple certified copies of the death certificate. Each of the financial institutions that you will be communicating with will require the death certificate (along with other documentation) to allow you to access funds and/or close out accounts.
Determine if the will needs to be filed in probate court. This decision can depend upon state laws and the value of the property that will be distributed based on the terms of the will.
Create a list of the deceased's assets. As executor, you will be responsible for managing the assets until they are distributed. This may involve deciding whether an asset should be sold or retained.
Determine who will inherit all or part of each asset and contact each individual. If no beneficiaries have been designated, or if the person died without a will, state intestacy laws dictate who would receive the assets.
Notify appropriate institutions of the death, including credit card companies, banks and the Social Security Administration. (Social Security payments received the month after an individual's death must be paid back to the Social Security Administration.)
Set up a bank account for the estate to hold income received after death and pay debts and expenses. The bank may re-title the deceased’s checking account to the estate (or trust) for this purpose. Use estate funds to pay ongoing expenses and debts.
Make sure that a final federal and state income tax return is prepared and filed for the year of death. If the deceased has a large taxable estate, you may also have to file state and federal estate tax returns within nine months of the date of death.
Make sure that all property is distributed properly according to the beneficiary designation forms or stipulations of the will or trust document.
While you do have responsibilities, you don't have to go it alone. An estate planning attorney, and a CPA can help guide you through the process. Sometimes just a meeting or two with a professional can be of tremendous help.
The above is considered to be general tax information and is not intended to be used as tax advice. If you believe that any of the above applies to you, please consult with a tax professional. See our Legal Statement.