Impact – Wealth Management


Executor Duties – A Guide to the First Week

Serving as the executor of an estate is a big responsibility

… and not one people are often “trained” to do. 

As an executor you are tasked with things like selling property, paying debts, distributing assets and filing the final tax return (just to name a few).  

In our blog “When Someone You Love is Dying” we talked about a few things to locate in preparation for your job as an executor.  Refer to this blog for a list of some things that will be helpful as you start your executor journey (with the except of power of attorney documents which are no longer valid upon your loved one’s death).

In this blog we’ll cover your very first responsibilities as an executor. 

Week One – Executor Responsibilities

First things first, take a deep breath and grieve.  Most of the tasks of the executor are not urgent.  Closing an estate takes time (in fact it is not uncommon for the process to take more than a year).  

You will find that the funeral home is fantastic about helping you through the first initial responsibilities (like notifying Social Security, the VA, etc.)

There are only a few additional things you will need to do within the first week after a death.

Locate the will with original signatures

People often store wills in filing cabinets, safes, and safe deposit boxes.  If you cannot find the original will you may want to check with their personal attorney.  At IMPACT we keep a copy of our clients’ estate documents so you could also check with the financial advisor (this would just be a copy and not an original, but it can still be helpful).

Death Certificates 

The funeral home will usually ask how many death certificates you need.  This can be hard to estimate, but you will likely need one for every institution where assets are held and 2-3 additional to be safe.  If you don’t know exactly how many financial accounts there are, we would recommend ordering 10 copies.  They will cost between $10-20 dollars.  It can delay the estate settlement if you run out so order more than you think you will need.   If you find that you need additional copies later, the funeral home is usually willing to order more or you can request them from the Register of Deeds in the county where the death occurred. 

Secure the Assets

It is a sad reality that in the first week or so after a death, your loved ones belongings are particularly susceptible to theft.  Some criminals watch the obituaries for their next target. Sometimes even well-meaning relatives come in to take a keepsake that is particularly important to them.  It is your responsibility as the executor to secure the estate assets.  Here are some things to consider:

    1. Cancel the newspaper to avoid having them pile up on the front step
    2. Arrange for the mail to be held at the post office, forwarded to your address or else collected each day
    3. Arrange for the lawn to be mowed or snow to be removed
    4. Cancel any home-based services like housekeeping, Meals on Wheels, etc.  
    5. Cancel any auto-ship services (like Amazon, medicines, etc.)
    6. Collect small valuable possessions (like rings, jewelry, collectibles, etc.) that could easily be carried off and put them in a secure location
    7. You may also want to snap pictures of the rooms inside the home.  Hopefully you won’t need these photos but they can be useful in settling disputes if they arise.  

Beyond the First Week

Most of your work as the executor won’t be able to start until you receive the death certificates (which can take several weeks).  

Remember that serving as an executor is a marathon, not a sprint.  It can be important to have good legal support and advice during this time.  

After the funeral you may wish to set an appointment with the attorney who drafted the will and also your loved one’s financial advisor/s.  Having help from a great attorney and a helpful financial advisor can make a lot of difference in the ease of settling the estate.  

Important note about Beneficiary Designations: 

As an executor, you’ll be responsible for almost all of the duties of settling the estate according to your loved one’s will.  However, accounts that have a beneficiary associated with them (like IRA’s, life insurance policies, annuities, etc.) will pass directly to the beneficiaries associated with those accounts and NOT according to the will.  For accounts with designated beneficiaries, there won’t be much work required of the executor.  The financial institution will need to do paperwork with each of the beneficiaries individually.  

Impact Wealth Management LLC is a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). We are based in beautiful Sioux Falls, SD and regulated by the State of South Dakota. Throughout this site, we went out of our way to present unbiased data believed to be from reliable and respected sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, and relevance are not guaranteed, and no responsibility is assumed for errors or omissions.

This blog should not be seen as a substitute for legal advice.  Impact Wealth Management does not give legal or accounting advice.