Appointed as an executor? Top 4 steps to take to start settling the estate

As the top administrator, the executor is mandated to protect the estate of the decedent until the probate process is concluded and the assets are distributed. This task does not have to be overwhelming if you are organized. State probate and tax laws differ from state to state, however if you create a checklist and seek financial and legal advice of a probate and tax lawyer respectively, settling an estate can be straightforward. Here are a 4 tips to guide you.

Get the death certificate 

As the executor of the deceased's estate, you are responsible for the burial arrangements which means you will cater for the funeral expenses out of the estate. You will need to get the death certificate, preferably one that cites the causes of death as soon as possible. Copies of the death certificate will be used to notify bank accounts, Social Security Administration, insurance companies and for filing final tax returns. 

Locate the will or trust documents

You will need a copy of the will for the probate process, which you must file within a certain period following the demise of the deceased. In case the deceased had a living trust which was set up properly, you can be able to steer clear of probate altogether. Living trusts help avoid probate because all the assets are owned by the trust, not the deceased, therefore, the trust does not die although the individual does, and life goes on fairly uninterrupted. Trust assets may be distributed without court approval, while those captured in the will have to wait for approval from the probate judge. 

Seek expert advice

Armed with the will or trust documents, you will have a clue how complex the process of managing the estate will be. At this juncture, avoid wrong judgement by working with an appraiser, probate lawyer and tax expert for sound advice. The probate lawyer can advise you on the right legal actions to take and help deal with questions floated by beneficiaries who may be pushing for a speedy disbursement of assets. A tax expert will help you file the last tax return and handle any concerns involving specific inherited possessions including a residential property, retirement account, certain investments or a family business. Last but not least, an appraiser can give a fair market value on the deceased's assets. 

File letters testamentary 

After getting the death certificate and proceeding to file the will document with the probate court, the fourth step is to file letters testamentary. First, you'll confirm with your state laws whether the estate ought to go through probate. If the answer is yes, the probate court will officially confirm your role as executor with letters testamentary. These are basically registered documents that give you the legal power to administer the estate and start the process of filing tax returns, paying bills, dealing with beneficiaries, distributing assets, and managing bank accounts.