If you have been named as an Executor under someone’s will, there is no time to waste after the person’s death for you to start your duties. These are some tasks you should consider as soon as possible.
Locate the original will. Some decedents may have had the original will in their possession or in a safe deposit box. Many wills are held for safekeeping at the offices of the drafting attorney. Hopefully you have a copy of the will naming you as Executor and are aware of where the original is kept. The drafting attorney is usually a good place to start. An original will must be filed with the court for you to be appointed as Executor.
Hire an attorney. You may need to hire an attorney to assist you with the court process and for other aspects of the administration of the estate. Many Executors choose to hire the attorney who prepared the will on the basis that the attorney was chosen by the decedent and is familiar with the decedent’s estate plan and wishes.
Monitor the decedent’s mail. You will not be able to complete a change of address with the local post office until after you have been appointed by the court as Executor. However, you should begin collecting and monitoring the decedent’s mail for important documents such as correspondence from the drafting attorney, account statements, insurance statements, death benefits and bills.
Insurance policies. Try to locate the decedent’s homeowner’s, personal property and umbrella policies. Review coverage and make a plan for addressing any shortfalls. Contact the insurance agent to notify them of the decedent’s death.
Secure assets. Certain property requires immediate care. You should secure the decedent’s real estate from trespassers, vandalism, fire, and natural disasters. Changing the locks on the decedent’s home may be prudent. Ensure their automobiles are locked and the keys safeguarded. Consider whether any valuable jewelry, art or other moveable property is secure onsite or should be moved. If the decedent owned any firearms and these are no longer in the custody of a licensed individual, these should be turned over to a licensed gun dealer for safekeeping, or to the local police.
Act quickly. A lot can happen during the time it takes for you to be appointed by the court as an Executor. However, you can be held liable if you don’t act promptly and in good faith to secure the decedent’s assets. You do not want to be held at fault for the consequences of investment losses and/or interest and penalties on taxes incurred due to an Executor’s failure to obtain court appointment in a timely manner or damage to real property that was not secured after the death of the homeowner.