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.
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 estateís 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 estateís 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 deceasedís name to their own
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 deceasedís employers and find out about his
or her pension and medical insurance. A surviving spouse
is entitled to the decedentís medical benefits for up to
- 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
Step 6: Do I Need to File Taxes?
Income tax returns
Regardless of the month of the deceasedís 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.
Step 7: How Do I Secure Social Security and Other Benefits?
Social security and other benefits
To apply for survivorís 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
As the executrix, you are responsible for contacting the
deceasedís insurance company and supplying whatever materials
necessary to process the deceasedís policies and make appropriate
payments to the beneficiary.
Generally, the insurance company will need a copy of the
death certificate and the deceasedís 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.