What to do if you’re the Executor

By AnnMichelle G. Hart, Esq.
January 14, 2022 

Your family is in mourning having just lost your Grandpa Joe. You find out your Grandpa named you to be the Executor. Grandpa never told you! With your Deer-In-The-Headlights facial expression you ask (scream internally) “What do I do? Where do I start?”
Hi, I’m Ann Hart at HartLaw PLLC. I’m an estate planning attorney in Washington State. 
This is the most important – and challenging – role in probating an estate. 
So… What does an Executor / Personal Representative do? The designation is both an honor and an obligation. Depending on the size of the estate, performing this duty can feel like a second job.
Here are steps every Executor / Personal Representative needs to take: 

1. Obtain copies of the death certificate

2. File the Will with the Court to open Probate

You’ll need to obtain a letter from the court, known as a letter of testamentary. You need this letter because you don’t have authority until the court says you do. 

3. Assemble a team

In most cases, you’re going to need the professional help of a probate attorney, a tax professional, and certified financial planner.

4. Create or verify an inventory of assets

You may need to act as a detective to track down accounts. It’s not unusual to find an insurance policy or a bank account months after an individual has died.

5. Protect property and assets

You may need to change the locks to prevent overeager heirs from taking possession of valuable items too soon or when it’s gifted to someone else.

6. Set up a separate bank account in the name of the Estate 

You’ll need to pay bills and make deposits on behalf of the estate.

7. Pay the Decedents debts as directed by the Court

If bills and debts aren’t paid before the estate is distributed to heirs, creditors could sue you!

8. Communicate regularly with beneficiaries

Don’t leave other heirs in the dark, particularly if the process is taking longer than expected. Update them and keep good records.

9. Distribute the assets

Distributing personal property can be the most challenging part of this process. Be sure to get a release acknowledging that heirs have received their inheritance.

10. Complete the Estate Tax Return

You’re also responsible for filing a state and federal tax return so you can pay any taxes owed (or claim a refund).

11. Close the Probate at Court 

If all of this sounds like more than you can handle, you have the right to decline to act as an executor — and sometimes that’s the right choice. Another family member may step up, or you can hire a professional.

I’m Ann Hart at HartLaw PLLC. Your attorney with heart.