Acting as the executor of an estate is no easy task. Many of the responsibilities that accompany this role can be both time consuming and emotionally draining, particularly if you are also grieving the recent loss of a parent. Named executors do have the right to turn down the job if they don't feel comfortable performing the necessary duties. However, it is an extremely important job that must be taken on by someone who is willing to honor their parent by putting their affairs in order in accordance with their final wishes.

What to Do If You Become the Executor of Your Parents' Will

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What Executors Do

An executor is a person who has been named in a personal will as the party responsible for managing and closing the individual's estate upon their death, a task which entails many steps and can also include quite a bit of detective work. An executor may have to deal with many different institutions and third parties including banks, lawyers, financial planners, credit card companies, mortgage holders, and pension funds in order to get a complete grasp of the estate and existing assets. No matter the size and complexity of the estate, it is important that the executor be extremely detailed, organized, and focused in their record keeping and methods in accordance with the law.

Executing a Will in Colorado

Courts establish the validity of a will in a process that is called "probate" in legal terms. In Colorado, there are several paths this process can take, depending on the clarity of the will and whether or not it is contested by any of the named beneficiaries.  If the will is uncontested or the estate is small, you may be able to file for the deceased's assets via an affidavit and bypass the courts for the most part, dispersing assets amongst the named recipients informally. If the will is contested (a" formal" probate), the court may require that you as the estate representative keep meticulous notes on every transaction conducted.

It's a good idea to keep detailed records in any case to protect yourself, along with the support of an experienced lawyer. As the executor you are liable for the management (and mismanagement) of the estate, accountable to the courts and the other beneficiaries, like other siblings or relatives.

First Steps in Executing a Will

Start by making an inventory of all of the deceased's assets to the best of your knowledge. For example, where did they bank, and did they have a checking and savings account? Are there any loans or mortgages outstanding, and what institutions manage those accounts? Did they have any investments, pension funds, or veteran's benefits?  

You will need to provide copies of the death certificates to many of these institutions along with legal paperwork proving you are the executor in order to take control of the funds and to settle accounts.

Taking Care of Business

Next, identify any remaining debts and make sure to reconcile them using estate funds before they are dispersed. It's a good idea to go ahead and sell any property assets, such as a house or car, that can be lumped into the estate funds to settle outstanding debts.

Outstanding expenses must also be reconciled, such as medical bills and hospice care. Paying off debts and taxes is important too, and don't forget to use funds from the estate to pay for final expenses like funeral home fees, flowers, headstones, cemetery plots, etc.

As an executor you are also entitled to approximately 2% of the estate funds as compensation for your time, with additional deductions for necessary expenses like certified mailings, mileage, and travel costs. Just be aware that other beneficiaries may be sensitive about this. Here, again, good record-keeping and communication come into play.

Legal Assistance: Look to an Expert

It's likely that the deceased crafted their will and testament with the help of an estate lawyer. In this case, executors have a go-to resource for any questions they may have regarding the will's intention and execution. Personal contacts can also refer you to trusted and qualified estate lawyers who can readily answer your questions and help guide you throughout the process.

As a client, don't be afraid to ask questions for clarity's sake. You can even ask for a step-by-step plan of what they will do to help, and a list of documents and information that they need from you to streamline the process. Lawyers also assist in miscellaneous paperwork requiring notarizations, or transfer of a property deed, for example. Employing an estate lawyer offers valuable oversight and welcome peace of mind during what could otherwise be a daunting process.