An executor is the primary point of contact when it comes to carrying out a deceased person’s wishes as described in their Will. If you’ve been named as the executor of your loved one’s Will, and it’s your first time serving as an executor, you may not be sure of your duties and obligations.
While you may be able to find some documentation from the county where you need to file the Will for probate, here is a comprehensive checklist for what you’ll need to do and when if you’ve been appointed as an executor in Virginia.
Here are some immediate actions you’ll want to take when you learn you’ve been named as an executor of a deceased loved one’s Will:
- Find the Last Will and Testament. As an executor, it’s your job to ensure your loved one’s wishes are respected. A valid Will is often essential to ensuring you can perform that job. If your loved one did not have a Will, the probate process may become more complicated and take longer to complete.
- Get a copy of the death certificate. Since the funeral home will need to prove the death of your loved one, it’s important to obtain certified copies (several will be needed) of the death certificate. You’ll need these for probate as well as other tasks, like providing to a life insurance company, a bank or other financial entity, an employer HR department if the decedent was still working and has any salary, including paid leave, that is due to his estate, as well as notifying the Social Security Administration, to name a few.
- Track down any “payable on death” accounts. Determine if any financial assets, such as certificates of deposit or savings accounts, have designated beneficiaries on them, which will pass directly to the beneficiary outside of the Will. You may need the assistance of the persons you believe to be named beneficiaries to obtain those answers as many financial institutions will only share that information with the named beneficiaries.
- Find a legal coach to determine your probate obligations. Consider purchasing and scheduling a 1-hour coaching session with a Legal Case Coach at MLCC to determine whether you must record the Will and enter into Probate, or if you have an estate that does not require formal probate. It is not always necessary to record a Will and engage in formal Probate. Virginia provides a Small Estate Affidavit to loved ones for estates which contain bank accounts only and personal belongings of $50,000 or less. Virginia also allows real estate to pass outside a Will directly to the decedent’s heirs at law using a Virginia Real Estate Affidavit.
- File the Will in probate court. The original Will needs to be filed with the probate court in their county where they last resided or owned a home (if they died at a hospital or long term care facility). You will want to do this within the 30 – 45 days following their death if not sooner.
- Locate, organize, and manage assets. It’s your job as the executor to locate, organize, and manage your loved one’s assets until the estate is settled. This includes securing their home and all their personal belongings, which might require changing the locks or placing valuables in storage or a safe deposit box. You will also be contacting beneficiaries named in the Will or other blood heirs at law to let them know when you’ve been appointed as executor, often using a court form to do so. This notice is issued even if the blood heirs at law are not going to inherit under the Will, as a legal formality.
- Communicate with all necessary parties. Be sure you reach out to and maintain contact with all necessary parties, like an estate attorney, accountant, investment advisor, and others who can allow you access to your loved one’s accounts. You’ll also want to determine with the help of legal counsel when and whether you should notify creditors, such as a credit card company or mortgage company, of your loved one’s death and your appointment.
- Start managing finances. After you are qualified as executor, you must also obtain a new tax number from the IRS called an EIN, and set up a probate bank account to place all of the cash assets for probate. You will have a court-supervised obligation to account for every penny received and every penny spent out of that account.
Actions to take within the months after being appointed Executor
- Distribute the estate. Distributing assets is an ongoing process that may take some time depending on your ability to track down the appropriate heirs. Above all else, make sure you’re honoring your loved one’s wishes by following what was outlined in their Will, and be as communicative as possible with beneficiaries throughout the process.
- Pay fees/taxes. There may be fees and taxes associated with your loved one’s estate, so you’ll want to pay them as soon as possible to avoid penalties. Additionally, take care of things such as unpaid utility bills, rent, and other expenses. If any real estate is being included in probate and managed by the executor, you also need to make sure to keep a homeowner’s insurance policy in place at all times until it is finally sold, so that if there is a fire, flood or other damage, there is insurance to cover the repairs.
- Close out the estate. The last and final step of your executor process is closing the estate. After all debts and taxes have been paid, and assets have been distributed, you can request the probate court to fully close the estate and related accounts.
Some estate executors opt to handle the probate process on their own, without enlisting the help of an attorney. If you find yourself handling a DIY Virginia probate matter, My Legal Case Coach’s probate case forms packet and 1-to-1 virtual coaching services can help you with all of your questions and completing the forms needed for each step of the probate process. We even offer ongoing prepaid blocks of coaching time for as little as $100 per hour.
Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with a licensed Virginia attorney to discuss your circumstances and learn more about how we can coach you through the process.