Many times, a family member reads Mom or Dad’s will and sees they have been “appointed” as the executor of the estate. Unfortunately, using the word “appoint” in your will is technically inaccurate. Only a court can “appoint” the executor. Your will really just makes a nomination. That nomination may be declined if the named person would rather not serve. That person might not even qualify if he has a felony conviction or other disqualification. Regardless, once someone is appointed by a court, what, exactly, are they supposed to do?
The executor’s job may be boiled down to three basic steps. First, gather/take control of all of the estate assets. Second, address any debts owed by the estate (some may be eliminated so do not rush into paying them off). Third, distribute the assets according to the terms of the will. This is a basic description. The role of the executor will include other steps and other responsibilities but every state’s requirements can be different. No guide can be universal across the country. Be sure to stay in communication with your attorney if you are not sure about what to do.
Kiplinger’s recently posted an article called A Step-by-Step Guide to Being an Executor. One of the points in the post is to start by reading the will and understanding the testator’s intentions. I regularly hear someone complaining that “this isn’t what Mom wanted.” If there is a valid will, that document controls. Mom signed that will and it is the only usable evidence of what she wanted. Now, keep in mind, at least in Texas, beneficiaries of the will can agree to divide things differently. Just read the will and get everyone on the same page.
The executors that are organized, comfortable with details and numbers, methodical, and start with an understanding of what is actually in the “estate” will be more successful and have fewer issues. If you are lucky, Mom left documentation of what she left behind – insurance, CDs, cash, jewelry, etc. and where to find it.
Secure the home. It is imperative that the family does not decide to have a free-for-all and raid the house. What is commonly misunderstood is that the beneficiaries get what is left over after the probate process is complete. Beneficiaries receive what is left after creditors are paid, the funeral is paid, the probate expenses are paid. They do not take everything right away. They might not even get that antique listed in the will depending upon the circumstances.
Do not start giving out small things because you don’t think anyone will mind. You will start a wave you can’t control. Just tell everyone to be patient. Probate does not have to be a long process. However, discord among the family will cause things to drag on and will ultimately cost everyone.