If you are approached by a family member or a friend and asked whether they may appoint you in their last will and testament as the executor of their estate, you natural first reaction is “What does does mean to me?” In another scenario, you may be faced with a death of a loved one, where you may be the only one required or willing and able to settle financial affairs of the deceased. Whether by choice or by circumstance, you should know what you are getting yourself into. Below are a list of basic tasks and responsibilities that you have as an executor or administrator of an estate.
- You are an executor appointed by the last will and testament:
First, just because you are named in the will as the Executor, doesnâ€™t mean that you are automatically appointed as one. You will need to be appointed by the court of law. Second, you will need to take the original last will and testament of the deceased and bring it to the surrogateâ€™s court, probate part of the county where the testator or the deceased lived before his or her death.
- If you are an administrator or seeking to become one:
You will need to be appointed as an administrator of an estate if you wish to manage or gain access to the property of the deceased. In this case, you will need to go to the surrogateâ€™s court, estate administration part of the county where the testator or deceased lived before his or her death. You will need to demonstrate your status as the next of kin to be granted letters of administration.
- Notify creditors and government agencies:
If you know that the deceased had debt, such as credit cards, mortgages or doctor bills, you must notify each such creditor in turn. You do not need to pursue these entities or wait to hear back from them, but you do need to make an effort to notify creditor entities. What they do after they receive their notice is up to them.
- Notify family members:
It is your duty to notify other next of kin of the a) the passing of the testator and b) existence of an estate.Â In most cases, there will be at least some members of the family who live far away from the deceased and would not know about the passing. In these circumstances, you do need to notify the next of kin and furnish them with a copy of the will, if one is present and they are named in it, and the fact that you have been appointed by the court to manage the estate.
- Establish an Estate entity
You will need to notify the IRS that the deceased has passed away. From a practical sense, you need this piece to open an estate bank account to hold estate funds.
- Determine what other legal actions are required.
Laws of inheritance are determined by the situs or location of the property comprising the estate of the deceases. Therefore, if the deceased owned property in more than one estate or country, you may be required to initiate a surrogateâ€™s court process in jurisdictions where such property is located.
- Pay Debts and Taxes.
Taxes must be accounted for and paid, usually within 8 months of death. You need to worry about 2 types of taxes: a) income tax for the last year of decedentâ€™s life; and b) estate taxes, which may be applicable at state and federal levels. If the decedent lived in New Jersey, you will also need to worry about inheritance taxes. You will also need to be debts of the decedent from the estate. The primary debt that must be attended to first, are Stateâ€™s estate recovery claims against the estate. These will be applicable if the decedent received publicly funded social services (Medicaid) prior to death.
- Prepare an accounting
In most cases it is highly recommended to prepare a statement listing all inflows and outflows of estate property between the date of death and up to the time of distribution. An accounting should include the value of estate property and payouts to 3rd parties for debts and expenses associated with the estate. As the administrator or executor, you carry a fiduciary duty to the estate and must ensure that fees paid to third parties are reasonable and not frivolous. In part, your discretion on who should be on estateâ€™s payroll is important because these charges will need to be explained during accounting. Note that not all courts require a formal accounting or any accounting. Nevertheless, an accounting is a good idea as means of protecting you from future claims by interested parties.
- Maintain estate property
While steps above are being performed, it is your duty to ensure that the estate property doesnâ€™t fall into disrepair, incur violations and damage due to neglect and natural causes, is sold or otherwise disposed of in a manner that is in best interests of the next of kin. This means that you need to make sure that real estate taxes are paid, mortgage is paid, and/or property is sold at or near market rates for such property.
- Distribute the estate property
Once steps 1 â€“ 9 are successfully completed, you will need to distribute the property to the heirs identified in the will, or in the absence of a will, to individuals who are considered heirs by the Stateâ€™s intestacy statutes. The intestacy statutes that control is the State where the Deceased lived at the time of his or her death and the intestacy statutes of the state where the property was located. You must be sure to obtain each beneficiaryâ€™s consent to the amount and manner of distribution before such distribution occurs. If a beneficiary is unable or unwilling to consent, you may need to request court intervention before your duty to the estate is fulfilled.