You've received the dubious honor of getting named as executor to the estate of a friend or loved one. Now, you have to figure out how to handle their estate, which can often seem overwhelming for those with no prior estate experience. Although there is a lot of work to do, the good news is that most of that work is straightforward and while potentially tedious, simple.
Other than reading the will itself and verifying its accuracy and validity, the single most important thing you do will likely be creating an inventory of all of the assets as well as the debts and liabilities of the estate. Here are a few tips to make sure that this process goes smoothly.
Create a list with items and values
If your deceased loved one had significant assets, chances are good that they probably allocated at least a few of them to specific people. They might have wanted their chest of drawers to go to a grandchild or the family dinner table to go to their oldest child.
It can feel tempting to want to start handing those items off to people. However, doing so immediately is an easily avoidable mistake. You should not disperse any assets from the estate until you have made a full and total review of each asset and liability.
That is, in part, because the estate has an obligation to pay creditors before it begins to give assets to beneficiaries. Also, by pricing items carefully beforehand, you avoid the risk of potentially inequitably distributing the assets in the estate. Create a list with every asset, and include values or prices where appropriate.
Keep the property locked to avoid familial interference
It is a hard truth that many people will use the death of a loved one as an opportunity to improve their own status or financial circumstances. Even people who may otherwise seem trustworthy and ethical may feel entitled to certain assets from the estate, regardless of whether those items should belong to them under the terms of the last will or estate plan.
From jewelry to art or even hidden collections of cash, there are many assets that family members could try to take for their own benefit. In some cases, where non-spousal family members have access to the home of the deceased, you may need to either change the locks or put a secondary lock on all points of entrance to keep people from illegally accessing the assets.
Keep a record of everything you distribute
Just like you need a written list with all of the assets in the estate and the values they each represent, you also need documentation for everything you give to other people. Have individual sign receipts for physical assets and keep accurate notes about everything you distribute. Doing that will avoid complications and ensure that you uphold the wishes of the person who named you executor.