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If you are an executor of an estate, you must carry out your duties responsibly. Here are the common steps required of executors.

What should you do now, before having to assume the role of executor?

The most important thing you can do is to communicate with him or her.

Ask where the will and other documents are located. Establish funeral wishes. Identify all the professional and legal advisers.

Many married people choose to leave the bulk of their assets to their spouse. Assets passing to a surviving spouse should be jointly titled where appropriate.

Is the testator (the person who owns the estate) okay with the named beneficiaries of their retirement plans and life insurance policies?

Ideally, an executor assumes their responsibilities with an up-to-date list of all the testator’s assets.

The first step is to determine whether you require assistance in carrying out your executor duties.

You may want it, particularly if the deceased had tax or legal issues, significant business or real estate investments, or disputes with intended or potential heirs.

Does that mean hiring an attorney? Maybe, maybe not.

An attorney can take on all the work or serve as consultants. If someone challenges the legality of the will, hiring an attorney is a must.

The next step is figuring out the degree of probate for the estate.

Many assets do not require probate — assets with designated beneficiaries, jointly owned assets, and assets held within trusts.

In order to legally validate a will, probate is necessary. It may be necessary to close an estate. That means filing the will in probate court.

As you do that, you must ask the court to confirm you as executor, and you must also notify the actual and potential beneficiaries of the estate’s assets: the named beneficiaries as well as immediate family members who could be heirs. Next, you must compile an inventory of all the assets of the deceased, those subject to probate and not.

Probate may go on for many months. During this time, you will have more duties to carry out.

You must manage assets on behalf of the estate. You must contact Social Security and Medicare.

Payments must be made from the estate, too: tax payments, mortgage payments, homeowners insurance premiums, and utility bills related to a primary residence.

Typically, creditors have up to six months to file a claim for collection of a debt.

There will also be inflows to the estate, not just outflows – setting up a bank account on behalf of the estate may be useful.

It may come in handy to hold dividends, royalties, rents, and forms of work-related income.

Finally, the executor oversees the distribution of assets per the instructions in the will.

It is no small responsibility to serve as an executor, especially for a complex estate.

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Tom and John Mills are registered investment advisers and certified financial planners. Reach them at 254-0155. MillsWealth.com. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Strategic Wealth Advisors Group (SWAG), a registered investment adviser.

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