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What does an estate executor do?

If your parents are aging, you may have had more and more discussions with them about their estate plan and what their wishes will be near the end of their life. If you haven’t, now is the time, especially if you have agreed to be the executor of their estate.

Estate executor basics

Being an estate executor is a big responsibility. What you need to know first is that serving as an executor of a will is a long process—often taking up to a year. In addition, in Massachusetts, an estate executor is known as a personal representative, and by law, they must fulfill their duties with the utmost honesty and diligence, known as their fiduciary duty.

Filing will for probate

You will have to see if you can file informal probate for your parent’s will. This is a faster process than filing formal probate with a court near the deceased's home and requires specific forms and notification periods for any heirs or people who may receive assets from your parent’s will.

Specific executor duties

Other estate executor duties include the following:

  • Keeping the estate’s assets safe until you can distribute them properly. Often, this responsibility includes deciding which assets to sell and to keep.
  • Establishing a bank account for the estate. Estate executors need to keep the estate’s money separate from their own. By setting up a bank account just for the estate, you can pay creditors more easily, as well as pay any necessary mortgage payments or insurance payments until any property is sold.
  • Completing the deceased’s affairs. As executor, you will pay any outstanding bills and notify banks and creditors of your loved one’s death. If your parent already was receiving Social Security payments, you must notify the Social Security Administration of their death.
  • Paying off debts and creditors. Before anyone can receive an inheritance from a will, you must pay any debts the deceased person owed.
  • Pay taxes for the final year of your loved one’s life. You must make sure your loved one’s taxes are filed and paid for their final year of life.

If your parents have not made a will, it’s never too late. Having them meet with an estate planning attorney to draft a will, a living will and a health care directive is the first step. And if you feel you are not able to serve as executor of their estate, letting them know that upfront will ensure they can find someone who can.

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