If you’ve learned that you’ve been named the administrator of an estate or executor of a will, you may not be ready for the responsibility. The unfortunate thing about death, more often than not, is that there is tangible work to be done at a time when family members are least prepared to do it. Through the haze of mourning, you’re expected to make good financial and legal decisions. Obviously, this is far easier to do with the help of a probate attorney. Find one you can trust and move forward with the business of administering the estate.
Protect the Assets
If you are the executor of record for someone who owned very little, the job probably isn’t going to take too much effort. On the other hand, if the deceased owned a lot of property, all of which is filled with tons of belongings, you could have quite the task ahead of you. Trying to do it on your own without a probate attorney is a big mistake and will almost surely lead to unpleasant legal entanglements. Your job is to protect the assets. Go through the deceased’s records to find out who owes money to the estate. And find out what needs to be done to continue the deceased’s business interests, if that is your goal.
Pay Off Debts
While it certainly won’t be your responsibility (usually) to dip into your own pockets to pay off the debts of the decedent, a probate attorney will tell you that you will have a responsibility to cover their debts out of their own estate and assets. You’ll need to look at income taxes, property taxes, and other government loans first. Next, you’ll need to look at any private debts that won’t be automatically cleared by their death. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t much left to divvy up after these debts have been taken care of. This is often the case.
Distribute Remaining Assets
Once the debts have been cleared, it will be time to distribute the rest of the property and assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. If there is no will, of course, things will get tricky in a hurry. Even a will can be left open to interpretation and challenges. It is far from uncommon to see a family be thrown into turmoil when rightful ownership is challenged. Greed plays a role, but so does emotion. No one likes to think of himself as the favorite nephew only to realize he’s been left nothing. Work closely with your probate attorney to prevent things from getting out of hand.