The executor must locate the will and all of the assets the deceased person owned. An attorney should be consulted to assist in the process of probate, which is the legal process that transfers property from the estate of the deceased to the intended beneficiaries.
Protecting the assets of the deceased---also called the "decedent"---is the executor's primary responsibility. This may include tasks such as acquiring fire insurance on properties and changing locks if necessary. The executor should locate and take inventory of any known safety deposit boxes. All life, car and house insurance policies owned by the decedent should be located and the insurance companies contacted about the death.
Banking and Taxes
The executor must contact all banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions that did business with the decedent. A checking account should be opened in the name of the estate so that all debts and beneficiaries can be paid from it.
Tax records from the previous three years must be located and examined to make sure no filing dates are missed. The executor could face personal penalties if tax payments fail to be made on time.
The executor must settle any unpaid debts including medical bills from the estate's checking account. It is customary to pay the debt to the funeral director before paying anyone else. An executor often posts an ad in the local newspaper that notifies potential creditors of the decedent's death. This ensures that all debts are known and paid.
Distribution of Assets
After all of the decedent's accounts are settled, the executor makes sure that all beneficiaries receive the amount of assets that are detailed in the will.
Obtaining multiple certified copies of the death certificate is the responsibility of the executor. The executor must keep records of all income and expenses that the estate receives, keeping in mind that the IRS can audit people up to three years after death.
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