Answers to common questions about the role of estate executor and how to settle an estate.

An executor manages the estate of someone who has died. The executor is the deceased’s personal representative, responsible for overseeing the deceased’s assets until they are distributed to the heirs and any debts or taxes are paid. Often a close relative of the deceased, the executor is usually named in the will, or designated by the court if there is no will. An executor does not need to be a financial or legal expert but must act with good faith and honesty on behalf of the estate.

If you’ve been named executor, you may be wondering how and where to begin. Here are answers from Legacy experts to some of the most common questions about how to administer an estate after a death.

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ESTATE EXECUTOR BASICS


 

Should I accept this role?

It's your choice whether to serve as executor or pass on the responsibility. Here are four questions to help you decide.

So, I’m the executor. Now what?

If you’re like many people, you’re not even sure what it means to be an executor. Read on to learn the basics. 

What are the first steps I should take as executor?

Do these five things first and you’ll be off to a good start.

What inappropriate steps should I avoid?

Here’s what not to do as executor of an estate.

How quickly do I need to settle an estate?

Settling an estate typically takes about a year. But there are factors that can impact the timeline.

 


MONEY DOS & DON'TS


 

Can I use money from the estate to cover funeral expenses?

Yes, you can use the estate’s money to pay for the funeral. But there is an important caveat.

Is it OK to distribute assets early in the process?

Assets should not be distributed until the very end. If you’re feeling the pressure from beneficiaries, share these reasons why.

What do I need to have appraised?

Is an old clock a worthless relic or a valuable antique, and how will you know?

How can I save money as executor?

Six tips to help you smartly manage the estate’s money and maximize the proceeds heirs receive.

Will I need to spend my own money as executor?

Here are five things you can do to make sure you’re not paying out of pocket for the estate’s expenses.

What expenses are reimbursable to me?

There are several types of expenses you may incur while settling an estate. Fortunately, many of these can be reimbursed.

Should I accept compensation?

Many states allow executors to be paid for their time and work. Whether you feel comfortable accepting money from a loved one’s estate is another matter.

When should and shouldn’t I spend the estate’s money?

As executor, you are legally bound to act in the best interest of the estate’s heirs. Here's how to make sure you’re being fair to yourself and other beneficiaries.

 


LEGAL AND FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS


 

What is probate court and how do I navigate it?

Probate court is central to the legal process of settling an estate, so it's helpful for an executor to have a basic understanding of how it works.

Do I need to hire an estate attorney?

Unless you are experienced as an executor, you probably should hire an estate or probate attorney. Here’s how.

What about a financial advisor?

Financial planners can help you avoid costly mistakes that could land you — as an executor with a fiduciary duty — in legal trouble.

Are there tax strategies I should consider?

Here are six ways to minimize taxes legally as loved ones age and ultimately pass away.

What are my responsibilities for final tax returns?

Six types of taxes you may need to file on behalf of the deceased and/or their estate.

What do I need to know about life insurance?

Answers to five common questions about handling life insurance as an estate executor.

How can I get help with life insurance claims?

If you want to make sure insurance proceeds are paid out, it’s best to be proactive.

 


MILITARY VETERANS


 

What should I do if the deceased is a military veteran?

You can honor a veteran’s military service and save the estate money at the same time.

 


MANAGING EMOTIONS


 

How do I handle my grief and oversee the estate?

It's challenging to perform the duties of executor when you’re grieving the loss of someone close to you. Here are tips to make it easier on yourself.

How can I cope with the stress of being executor?

Here are seven ways to make the stressful job of executing a loved one’s estate a little more manageable.

So, who gets Mom’s china?

Four tips to prevent inheritance disagreements before they begin.

What can I do about family squabbles?

How to handle disagreements among family members.

How do I keep my family from fighting over the estate?

Six approaches to help executors solve disputes quickly or avoid them altogether.

How will I know if an executor is treating me unfairly?

What to expect from an estate executor and how to identify if one is not acting appropriately.

What do I do if an executor is treating me unfairly?

Here are six steps to take if an executor is not acting in the best interests of all beneficiaries.

How administering an estate can make a family stronger

Six ways an estate executor can strengthen family relationships.