Heads Up, Executors: 3 Tips to Help Begin Your New Role

You were recently named the executor of a friend or loved one's will. Now what? Well, hopefully the day you will have to serve does not come for a long time (*fingers crossed*), but when it does, use these three tips to start off on the right foot. 

1. Get Qualified as Executor 

No better way to stumble out of the gate than to attempt to assume the role of Executor without being qualified by the Clerk of Court first. Banks won't talk to you, the DMV turns you away. What's a new Executor to do? First, find the original Will and obtain a copy of the death certificate and submit them to the Clerk of Court with an Application for Probate and Letters Testamentary, along with the requisite filing fee and the Oath/Affirmation form. You'll be granted Letters Testamentary - the legal authority to act on behalf of the Estate. Get a few extras (five are included and every additional one after that are only $1).  

2. Open an Estate Account 

Either consolidate existing accounts or open a new account just for the Estate. You'll also need to obtain a EIN for the Estate, for any income/interest generated while the Estate is open. Opening the Estate Account will give you a place to deposit last pay checks, tax returns, proceeds of assets, etc. It will also give you liquid assets to distribute should there be specific distributions of cash set out in the Will.  

3. Get Organized 

It's best to treat and Estate like a business - it needs to have thorough and accurate records, including all expenditures and claims made by creditors. The Clerk will take issue with a sloppy accounting and may delay the closing of the Estate or the approval of the Final Accounting should there be unaccounted for expenditures/distributions or creditor claims that were not accounted for. Get a copy of everything - car titles, bank statements, stock certificates, deeds, etc.  

Good luck. And if you need to, don't hesitate to seek legal counsel to help navigate the process. The attorney's fee is an expense of the Estate - not generally one incurred by the Executor.