You’ve been named as executor and want to serve in the role, but you live far away from the deceased. You know the will must be filed where the deceased lived and that all of the estate assets are in that community too. The job feels very “local” but you’d really like to honor the deceased’s wishes.
Can you still serve as executor from a distance? The answer is yes. It will likely involve some travel to their town, but it’s definitely possible. Here are some helpful things to know as an executor who lives far away from the estate you are serving.
Get a local team of experts behind you.
Whether you are local or far away, it is a good idea to get a team of experts to help you in your executor role. From hiring an estate attorney to file the will with the local probate court and shepherd you through the legal obligations of your executor role, to getting an accountant to file the required tax returns, local experts can be invaluable as you serve as executor. They are your boots on the ground in the local community. And, don’t feel badly about hiring these professionals. You would likely want (and need) to utilize professionals even if you were local. It’s your job to manage the process—not to become an expert on probate court and estate tax law and do this all yourself.
Secure all assets.
While this can be a sensitive topic, it is your duty as executor to secure all of the assets in the estate. If there is a house full of valuables, you need to do all you can to safeguard them. Burglary is always a risk (and some thieves monitor local obituaries). Even a sibling who has full access while you are 300 miles away can steal valuable items if he or she not trustworthy. While it may feel like overkill, a simple monitored wireless security system, like SimpliSafe, can be installed in minutes and will allow you to monitor who enters the house and when. You will also be notified if there is a break in and can have the system registered with the local police department fairly easily. You’ll spend a bit of money to purchase the system, but if there are significant assets in the house, it is likely a great investment.
Get organized and plan your visits well.
You likely will need to travel to the community for court appearances, meetings with the estate’s team of professionals, etc. Use this time wisely. It may be that you can take care of multiple things in one trip, but unless you know what’s coming, you won’t be able to plan to use your trips to their maximum. That’s where free resources like Executor.org come in. The website has a list of the 100+ duties executors must complete, and can help you make a plan for how to use your time wisely while you are in town. On the same day you have a required court appearance, you might be able to meet with a real estate agent and work on distribution of sentimental items with the beneficiaries. But unless you have an idea of what duties are still ahead of you, you won’t know how to use your time most efficiently.
Ask for help.
Remember, just because you’re the executor, that doesn’t mean you need to do all of the work yourself. If you have siblings you trust who live in the same city where the deceased lived, they may be open to assisting you. Even if they live out of town, they may be willing to come back when you’re there to help. Projects like cleaning out the basement of a family home can be a cumbersome task, but can also be a meaningful trip down “memory lane” for you and your siblings as you open boxes that remind you of special times you’ve had as a family.
Continue to use the will writer’s landscapers and other services, if possible, as grass will continue to grow, and the house will need to be maintained. Any reasonable expenses you incur in the executor role (such as home maintenance) are eligible for reimbursement. The estate will cover relevant travel expenses for you, and if you plan well (as we discussed above), it won’t diminish much of the value of the estate. If there is no money in the estate, there may be no funds available to reimburse you.
So, you can definitely be an executor from afar—but know that you’ll need to ask for help, safeguard assets, get and stay organized, and plan to visit their town at least a couple times in the process.
Have a question about executorship? Get an answer by sending an email to [email protected].
Patrick O’Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The free tools include a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.