For most people, the task of settling an estate is learned the hard way: on the job during a time of grief. Knowing a few critical first steps can go a long way toward helping you get your bearings as you face the job of honoring a loved one’s final wishes.
- Find and secure the will. The estate will have to be settled whether the will exists or not. If you have the will in hand, keep it safe to ensure you can distribute assets according to the decedent’s wishes.
- Understand the probate rules for your loved one’s state. In some states, an executor must file the decedent’s will within days of the death.
- Secure unoccupied real estate or other vulnerable assets. Property left unsecured can be a target for criminals, or even well-meaning beneficiaries who want to claim valued keepsakes from the decedent.
- Collect multiple copies of the death certificate. You’ll need one to transfer each major asset.
- Stay organized. Keep precise records of the decedent’s assets and debts, any probate duties you have to fulfill, and your correspondence with creditors, beneficiaries, or professionals you consult.
- Distribute property only after you have paid required expenses and taxes on the estate’s behalf. You may not have an accurate estimate of the estate’s value at the outset. Encourage beneficiaries to be patient so you can protect their interests and the estate’s.
These simple tips are taken from The Executor’s Roadmap, a step-by-step guide that helps people meet the challenge of honoring a loved one’s final wishes. The Roadmap is published by the non-profit American Institute for Economic Research.