It is not unusual for grief-stricken people to panic, experience severe anxiety or insomnia while mourning a loved one. This is the case, even if the person was very diligent and had a detailed estate plan in place, according to the Houston Chronicle in “Elder Law: Some unforeseen issues usually arise for survivors, executor.”
If you’re the designated executor of a will, you’ll want to know what you need to do ASAP. However, remember that even though you’ve been named in the will, it is still not official because the will must be filed in court with an application. Until the will is admitted to probate, you need to slow down because it’s not yet official.
When called upon, you will sign an oath that you promise to faithfully discharge your duties. Letters testamentary then need to be requested—that is proof you’re authorized to act on behalf of the estate. It’s your “permit” that makes your job as executor official.
A common situation arises when the decedent passes away in his or her home, and you get a call from a police officer. If law enforcement has received clearance to release the body from going to the medical examiner's office for an autopsy, the task is then to locate the right family member or agent to direct the body to a funeral home or other facility. Once the body’s been removed from the place of death to the mortuary and, if the decedent lived alone, your task is to secure the house and any other physical property. The next step is to look into funeral arrangements.
If the home is owned by a trust, the house will avoid the delay and costs associated with probate. The trustee will have legal access and control over the home immediately without court interference.
Many executors and trustees think about changing the locks immediately, if they’re uncertain who has keys to the place. It’s not uncommon for a relative or a beneficiary who has not been named executor or trustee to help themselves to items in the home. Remove valuables from the house unless you can keep them safe there. These are things like cash, jewelry, guns, precious metals and antiques.
Some other logistical points: don’t turn off the utilities because you’ll need them left on when dealing with the property in the house and later selling the home. Have the person’s mail forwarded to your home or office. Take care of pets and plants in the house and find people to look after them. Maintain the home—cut the grass or shovel the driveway—you need it to look like people live there in order to reduce potential break-ins.
Locate any contracts with a funeral home, in case the person pre-paid for their funeral or cremation. If there is a life insurance policy with the funeral home assigned as the beneficiary to cover funeral costs, you’ll need to locate that document as well.
Finally, if you know the estate planning attorney who helped your loved one create their estate plan, contact them to discuss what needs to happen next. Otherwise, you’ll want to find an experienced estate planning attorney who will be able to help you through the probate process.
Before your loved one dies that you will be named executor of the estate for, it is best to proactively understand their estate plan. A Family Estate Planning Law Group, we hold Family Care MeetingsTM with our clients where those who are to be involved in the estate management are asked to come so they can understand what the wishes are. Knowing ahead of time and establishing a relationship with the estate planning attorney is a great way to have a grasp on what will be expected of you as executor and help make the process smoother.
For more information on this and other estate planning topics, visit our website and schedule your consultation today!
Reference: Houston Chronicle (August 15, 2017) “Elder Law: Some unforeseen issues usually arise for survivors, executor”