Being an executor of an estate, now known as a personal representative, is an important responsibility. It can be a bit confusing at first as you figure out what to do. Here are a few immediate to-do’s for estate executors in Massachusetts.
1 – Obtain a Death Certificate
Death certificates can normally be requested from the city or town clerk’s office, but typically can be obtained from the funeral home. This should be one of your first tasks as it’s needed for many other subsequent tasks you will need to address. Consider requesting up to ten originals to avoid additional trips to city hall.
2 – Locate the Will
The decedent’s will may contain specific instructions for the burial. Hopefully you were provided with a copy of this in advance. If not, and if possible, locate this document before making funeral arrangements.
3 – Make Funeral Arrangements
As executor of the estate, you are responsible for coordinating and paying for the funeral (from the assets of the estate). As you work to honor the wishes outlined in the will, you may also need to reconcile this with the requests of heirs.
4 – Submit Filings to Probate Court
Next, you must file the will in probate court. This is required even if trusts and/or other estate planning instruments are in place to bypass probate. In that case, the will itself must still be filed and will indicate that all assets are transferred to a trust.
5 – Manage Assets
As executor, you are responsible for managing all assets. It may take time for an estate to be settled. In the meantime, all assets must be accounted for and protected.
Start by creating a bank account in the name of the estate (with its own tax ID number) and transferring all probate funds to that secure location. Earnings from any liquidated assets must be added to this as well. Pay ongoing expenses, as needed, to keep accounts current and avoid unnecessary fees that may dwindle funds from the estate.
6 – Distribute Assets
Once you are authorized to do so by either the terms of the estate plan or by a court, you may pay off debts and distribute remaining assets to beneficiaries (which might be a trust). Make sure all funds are fully accounted for and properly managed. You can be held personally responsible for any mistakes.
7 – File Tax Returns and Court Paperwork
Tax returns for the estate will be required yearly starting with the date of death. Courts may request copies of financial statements in cases where probate extends over several years. Once all matters are settled and assets distributed, one final statement must be completed with a final accounting of funds.
More To-Do’s for Estate Executors
Being an estate executor is an extremely important responsibility. With so many tasks that include legal and financial matters, be sure to seek professional help. Estate planning attorneys can assist with the legal process. Accountants can help keep your books in order and file tax returns. Other service providers may be needed to help manage and/or liquidate assets.
Don’t feel that you must personally retain the knowledge to carry out your executor role. Rarely does anyone individually have all the skills for such a diverse job. Sometimes the best way to protect the assets of the estate and the interests of everyone involved, including yourself, is to seek professional help. Contact our team of Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorneys for estate settlement services. Our 7-step plan is designed to guide you through every step of settling a loved one’s estate.