Dealing with the death of a family member—especially when that family member is a parent—can be fraught with confusion and emotion even under the best of circumstances. Being named as the executor of a family member’s estate (although often considered an honor) means that you have to have a clearer head and more patience than everyone else during an already difficult time.
If you have been named as the executor of the estate it means that most likely a Will has been found. Remember: a Will ususally requires probate, unlike a Trust. (If the deceased did not have a Will, then the estate will be distributed according to the state probate code. In that event, a representative called an “administrator” will have to be appointed by the court, but it does not mean that probate can be avoided. Preference in appointment is usually given to family members, in an order specified by statute.) Once you have been appointed the executor or administrator you are considered the responsible party during the probate process and can be held accountable by the beneficiaries. As the executor or administrator, the following is a partial list of your responsibilities:
- Reviewing the estate assets.
- Creating an accounting of the deceased’s assets and liabilities.
- Giving notice to potential creditors.
- Settling outstanding debts.
- Making distributions for estate taxes.
- Making distributions to heirs.
- Filing a final accounting with the court to close the probate process.
In addition to the above responsibilities, it will be your responsibility to keep the estate viable (making sure the mortgage and fees continue to be paid) during the probate process. Probate can often be a lengthy process, so you may petition the court to release short-term supply funds for this purpose while proceedings continue.
If you are thinking that this sounds like no easy job you’re absolutely right! Executors and administrators are entitled to compensation from the deceased’s estate, although — if an immediate family member — some choose not to accept compensation. You should also remember that being executor or administrator does not mean that you are personally responsible for the debts of the deceased. All debts, taxes, legal fees, etc. should be paid from the estate of the deceased, not your own pocket.
If this all seems overwhelming, there is good news: You don’t have to go through all of this by yourself. The court can appoint someone to oversee the process (although these appointees often oversee a number of probate cases at a time and may be very busy) or you can find an attorney experienced in the probate process. If you find yourself in this situation, feeling confused and overwhelmed, please call our office. We understand, and we can help.