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Estate Planning

I’m Listed as Executor and Now My
Loved One Has Died: What Do I Do Now?

Revised January 16, 2007

            Codicil = a written document that changes a will (and becomes a part of the will), which is signed with the same formalities as a will (such as two witnesses in the room seeing the testator sign the document)

            Decedent = the deceased person

            Executor = the person/s or organization named in a will who serves as basically a “financial manager” to manage the estate’s assets, pay debts/taxes, file tax returns, and deal with the beneficiaries

Here is my list of the top things you need to do as the named Executor (but there may be other things that you need to do):

1.  Locate the original will (and any original codicils).  Are there any trust documents?

2.  File the original will (and any codicils) with the probate section of the courthouse in the county where the decedent was last residing (a lawyer can do this for you).  If you’re unsure, check with a lawyer first.

3.  Read the will (and any codicils carefully) to determine who the beneficiaries are and when they may receive inheritances (such as if there is any age requirement)

4.  Determine what the decedent’s assets are which an executor will have to deal with:

*  assets only in the decedent’s name (real estate, vehicles, stocks, accounts, etc.)

*  assets owned jointly with another person (which are to be considered as part of the decedent’s estate  -- because the other person’s name was on the account for convenience purposes only)

Note:  Some assets may not pass through the decedent’s will, such as:

*  assets only in the decedent’s name which are passing by a beneficiary form (such as IRAs, life insurance proceeds, 401k plan assets, 403b plan assets, annuities)

*  assets owned by a trust

*  assets in the decedent’s name passing by a payable on death account or transfer on death account

*  assets owned jointly with another person (which the decedent wanted to pass to such survivor)

5.  If appropriate, take possession of the decedent’s valuable items, such as:

*  keys to real estate                             

*  keys and titles to vehicles

*  computers and computer disks           

*  jewelry and watches

*  collections (coins, stamps, etc.)                   

*  cash and checks payable to decedent

*  credit cards                                      

*  unused checks & checkbooks

*  stock certificates                              

*  savings bonds

*  other important documents (deeds, insurance policies, bank statements, etc.)

6.  Determine whether any income tax returns need to be file for the decedent

7.  Determine what the decedent’s debts are, such as:

*  credit card debts           

*  mortgage payments       

*  funeral expenses

*  utility bills                             

*  medical expenses          

*  auto payments               

8.  Determine when certain debts regarding the decedent’s home will be due:

*  real estate taxes                      

*  homeowner’s association dues

*  homeowner’s insurance

9.  Determine if the decedent had a safe deposit box (and inventory the contents)

10.  Determine whether it’s necessary (or desirable) to open a probate estate (and be officially appointed by the probate judge as the “executor”)

Note:  If no probate estate is opened, then there is no “executor”. 

Just being listed in a “will” to be the executor doesn’t make you the executor (you must file a petition and other documents with the court, pay the court a fee to open a probate estate, and have the probate judge approve you serving as executor). 

11.  Provide a copy of the will (and any codicils) to the beneficiaries named in the will (if they don’t already have a copy)

12.  Get an EIN number – federal tax number (if you open a probate estate) from the IRS

13.  Open a bank account for the estate (if you open a probate estate) and use its EIN

14.  Notify the proper persons/companies of the decedent’s death, such as:  

*  financial institutions

*  insurance companies

*  providers of any pension checks

*  credit card companies

*  the decedent’s advisors (stock broker, financial planner, accountant)

15.  Have the decedent’s mail forwarded to you

16.  Determine whether any estate taxes are due the government

17.  Provide the beneficiaries with an accounting which lists the assets and the value of the assets, the debts/expenses, and the distributions to the beneficiaries

18.  If you intend to charge for serving as executor (if the will doesn’t prohibit a fee), keep detailed records of the time you spent on behalf of the decedent’s estate

19.  Determine whether a statutory custodial claim is possible (a spouse, parent, sibling, or child of a disabled person who was living with the disabled person and personally cared for him/her for at least 3 years shall be entitled to a claim against the estate)


Copyright 2008 Ronald Runkle

Law Office of Ronald Runkle & Associates, P.C.
236 Center Street - Grayslake, IL 60030
Tel: (847) 548-5950 Fax: (847) 548-6085