Administering a Will
Though it is difficult to think about the possibility of losing a loved one, it is imperative that you know and accept the duties of an executrix before you sign a will.
Administering a will can seem intimidating. It is important to know that the responsibilities of an executrix begin as soon as you sign.
You should know:
- Where the will writer keeps his or her will
- His or her insurance and bank account information
- How to get access to a safe deposit box if there is one
Step 1: How Do I Select an Attorney?
Although it would be possible to administer a will using a paralegal, an attorney who is qualified to handle estate affairs will help make a complex and time consuming process much less stressful.
Read more about selecting an attorney.
Step 2: What is the Probate Process?
After someone passes away, all of his or her possessions become part of the estate.
The transferring of the estate`s assets to the beneficiaries is called probate and is supervised by the probate court.
The court validates the will and insures that the assets are distributed in accordance with the will.
This process takes months and sometimes years and can be somewhat costly because of court fees. When the administration of the estate is complete, the will becomes a public document.
Step 3: What are My Responsibilities as Executrix?
Below is a list of the key responsibilities you will face:
- Open an estate bank account to hold all of the monetary assets of the estate. All credits and debts should be transferred in and out of this account.
- Bring the will to the estate attorney and have him or her prepare forms to present to probate court that will officially appoint you as the executrix.
- Notify all of the beneficiaries and mail them a copy of the will. At least one witness will have to testify in probate court if the signature was not notarized.
- Notify all known creditors. You may want to put a death announcement in the paper to notify any unknown creditors.
- If the will does not relieve you of filing periodic expense reports, you will have to file these reports that disclose the estate`s assets annually with the probate court.
- When all the administrative duties have been completed, file a petition with probate court that closes the estate and relieves you of responsibility and inhibits creditors from contacting you in the future.
Step 4: How do I Transfer Assets to Beneficiaries?
Often, the beneficiaries may pressure you, the executrix, to transfer the assets from the deceased`s name to their own immediately.
Because you are responsible for the financial affairs of the estate, it is in your best interest to hold onto all assets until all debts have been discharged.
If you transfer the assets prematurely, you may be held responsible for paying debts that cannot be covered by the remaining assets in the estate.
Step 5: What other Notifications Should I Make?
Besides notifying the beneficiaries and creditors who have a direct roll in the probate process, also be sure to:
- Notify the deceased`s employers and find out about his or her pension and medical insurance. A surviving spouse is entitled to the decedent`s medical benefits for up to 36 months.
- Ask about any Income in Respect of a Descendent (IRS) that includes any unpaid bonuses and paychecks.
- Notify the post office of the death.
- Go through the deceased’s mail and cancel any subscriptions.
- Cancel any phone and utility services so as not to accrue additional debts.
Step 6: Do I Need to File Taxes?
Income tax returns
Regardless of the month of the deceased`s death, you will be responsible for filing both federal and state income taxes by April 15.
If your spouse is the decedent, you may file a joint return, as long as you do not remarry before the end of the tax year.
Learn more information about the type of federal estate tax returns you will be responsible for filing.
Step 7: How Do I Secure Social Security and Other Benefits?
Social security and other benefits
To apply for survivor`s social security benefits, call the Social Security Department at 1-800-772-1213. They will most likely ask for:
- The social security number of the beneficiary
- The social security number of the deceased
- The death certificate
- The marriage certificate (if applicable)
- The bank account number of the beneficiary
Learn more about social security and veteran benefits.
As the executrix, you are responsible for contacting the deceased`s insurance company and supplying whatever materials necessary to process the deceased`s policies and make appropriate payments to the beneficiary.
Generally, the insurance company will need a copy of the death certificate and the deceased`s copy of the policy.
What if There Is No Will?
Often, especially in the case of an unexpected death, a will may not have been prepared by the deceased. In this case, someone will have to petition the state to become the Personal Representative for the decedent.
According to the laws of the state, the assets will be transferred to the beneficiaries. If you are validated as the Personal Representative of the decedent, you will then be responsible for carrying out all of the duties of an executrix.