As the oldest child, my mother has been called upon to serve as the executrix for multiple family members. I recently asked her what was involved with executing a will and she was kind enough to write this up for us:
Being named executor of someone’s estate is a daunting task, involving patience, fortitude and responsibility. Talk with the individual about his/her wishes and financial holdings when you are both calm and clear-headed, well BEFORE the final act.The conversation should include funeral arrangements; location of the legal will; where financial docs, passbooks, stock certificates, deeds, etc. are kept; how the contents of the home should be distributed; if the individual has a prepared obituary available.
The legal will should NOT be kept in a safe deposit box.
When the meeting with the funeral home takes place, try to have someone accompany you. Mourners are sometimes moved by guilt and grief in spending more than might be prudent.
Order more death certificates than you think you will need. For each account (bank, life insurance, investments, even EZPass) one must submit a death certificate with a raised seal.
Probate the will. This means bringing the original will and death certificate to the county seat in NJ where the deceased resided. Sometimes satellite offices are set up at local libraries. As a result of this meeting, a surrogate’s letter (sometimes called letter of testamentary) will be generated. When the executor of the will liquidates the deceased’s assets, a death certificate and surrogate’s letter minimally must be produced.
Regarding the deceased’s checking account, it would be optimal if the deceased and executor have a joint account. Bills must be paid for the deceased while the estate is being executed, which sometimes takes months. If a joint account has not been established, be aware of how long the checking account will be kept viable by the bank before it is closed.
Notify by mail the heirs named in the will.Notify all agencies of the deceased’s holdings (banks, investment companies, life insurance, pension offices, etc) of the owner’s death. The funeral home will notify the Social Security office automatically.
Keep careful records of all financial transactions while liquidating the deceased’s holdings. Include detailed expenditures and deposits in the checkbook.
Should the contents of a home need to be removed, enlist help. Hopefully the deceased will have already distributed special possessions to the special people in his life or included directives in the will. Additionally it is recommended before death to clean and organize the home as much as possible. If multiple visits to charitable drop-off locations (Goodwill, ASPCA for pet bedding, local thrift stores, Elks for medical supplies) is not possible, there are agencies who will empty out a home. Freecycle is another option.
Depending on the estimated value of the estate, enlisting an account or an attorney could be prudent. Although there are numerous resources on-line, in local county offices and in publications, it is often easier to phone a professional for advice.
It is possible that financial holdings should not be liquidated without tax waivers. This is pertinent if the estate’s value is very substantial (check the actual number according to the residence of the deceased). Taxes for the estate must be paid, including federal and state income tax and estate tax. Hopefully the deceased has considered financial planning BEFORE his passing which could include trust funds, gifting and other options.