This is the question posed to me by a reader recently. After the death of her mother she was left with a house, bills, and assets to deal with and no roadmap to help her figure it out. So she came to me. As it happens, I don’t know a lot about being an executor either, so I called up Jim Reed, The Pete the Planner Radio Show attorney, for advice.
It turns out, being an executor is complex and messy. And that doesn’t even factor in the emotional aspect of dealing with a loved one’s estate after they’ve passed away. So let’s start at the beginning.
Are you the legal executor of the will or is the responsibility just naturally falling on you? If you are not the legal executor of the will you can’t really do much until you are. This process involves a lot of paperwork and a visit to your local probate court. While this sounds simple, the paperwork is complex and the judge won’t approve it until it’s perfect. It’s best to have an attorney fill out and present the paperwork for you.
Once you are the legal executor your role will involve managing the trust. All assets must be included in the trust (the only thing excluded is life insurance) and creditors will be given a timeframe to make a claim against the estate. Of course, this is assuming the estate as a trust. No trust set up? Just another reason to involve an attorney.
When we pass away we leave memories, physical possessions, and a financial legacy. Now you are solely responsible for the financial complexities of someone else’s life. It’s a great responsibility. You are an intelligent person, but attempting to negotiate someone else’s financial life and all the legal red tape on your own is unnecessary. Bring in an attorney to help you navigate these waters. You’ll thank yourself later.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.