Taking on the role of executor or personal representative of an estate is a serious commitment. If a loved one asks you to be their executor, you might wonder what exactly that entails.

The executor or personal representative is the individual who carries out the provisions of a will after the owner has passed away. The duties of an executor include everything from organizing and transferring assets to paying off debts of the deceased.

Many people accept the role of executor without understanding how much responsibility is involved. If you agree to be an executor for a friend or family member, you should be aware of these important do’s and don’ts.

What an executor should do

The work of an executor can start before the death of the testator – or the person who wrote the will. Take these steps after agreeing to be an executor:

  • Determine where the testator keeps their will and how to access it.
  • Determine the testator’s wishes regarding burial or cremation as well as a funeral service.
  • Determine who the testator named as beneficiaries, attorneys, or agents; and know how to get in contact with them.
  • Request that the testator keeps a list of their bank accounts, debts, investments, and other valuable assets.

After the death of the testator, consider these additional steps:

  • Request a death certificate.
  • Retrieve the will.
  • Notify beneficiaries of the death.
  • Cancel credit cards of the deceased.
  • Protect the deceased’s property and assets.

What an executor should not do

The duties of an executor can feel overwhelming, and you might be worried about making a mistake. These are essential factors to avoid that can make your job a lot easier:

  • Don’t play favorites among the beneficiaries. Many executors are family members, meaning the beneficiaries of the estate are cousins, siblings, aunts, or uncles. No matter how close you are with your family, don’t prioritize individual members over others. Follow the will carefully, and don’t let family dynamics get in the way of your job.
  • Don’t assume your job will be quick. The role of an executor requires a time commitment. You may spend months organizing an estate and passing assets along to its new owner(s). You are responsible for ensuring everything is taken care of properly, and this won’t happen overnight.
  • Don’t procrastinate. The role of an executor should begin even before the death of a loved one. If you wait too long, you could struggle with locating essential documents and lose control of the situation.

An executor has many responsibilities and should take each of them seriously. If you accept the role of executor, you must commit to following the wishes of your loved one, and understand the consequences if you don’t.

Consulting with an estate administration attorney can help you through the many challenges of handling an estate after the death of a loved one.