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If you’ve been named the executor of someone’s will, the responsibility you’ve suddenly been handed may feel overwhelming at first. You can use these guidelines, however, to better understand what’s expected and how you need to proceed.

Here’s how to start:

1. Take possession of the deceased’s assets

You control the deceased’s assets until the estate is settled. Gather up keys and secure valuables until they can be distributed to the heirs.

2. Obtain a copy of the death certificate

Generally, the funeral home will provide this. You’ll need it in order to wrap up a number of issues, including closing out bank accounts and collecting life insurance.

3. See if there are instructions regarding the funeral

The will may detail the deceased’s final wishes regarding funeral services and burial or cremation. You can communicate these to the family and the funeral home.

4. Determine if probate is necessary.

If so, you may have to file the appropriate paperwork and attend court hearings. You will also need to file the will with the probate court.

5. Contact creditors and complete final paperwork

You will need to gather up any final debts the deceased left behind, notify creditors, close bank accounts and file the deceased’s final tax return. You will also need to set up an estate account and pay the final debts.

6. Co-ordinate with the trustee, insurance agents and heirs

If there’s a trust, you may need to work with the trustee to settle the estate. Similarly, you may need to communicate with insurance agents and the heirs to settle any outstanding issues and answer questions.

7. Locate the heirs and disburse the remainder of the estate

Once all debts are settled, anything that remains in the estate must be disbursed. This may mean simply distributing personal effects — or it may mean liquidating what’s not already in a trust and then disbursing the cash once everything is sold.

If you don’t believe that you can handle all of the tasks expected of an executor without assistance, you can seek professional help. In fact, many people prefer to do so in order to make sure that no important steps are skipped. For more information on how we can help you with these tasks, including resolving any disputes, please contact our office.