How to be an Executor

If you are named the executor or personal representative in a Last Will and Testament, you will be the final administrator of a deceased person’s estate and have many details to manage. The following estate executor checklist can help you more easily navigate the process while making sure none of your duties slip through the cracks.

  • Obtain copies of the death certificate. You will need them for a number of tasks:
    • Opening an estate file in the probate court.
    • Filing life insurance claims.
    • Filing tax returns.
    • Accessing financial accounts.
    • Notifying such organizations as the Social Security Administration.
  • Ensure the wishes of the deceased regarding funeral arrangements are carried out.
  • File a copy of the Will in probate court. In some cases, assets may pass to heirs without probate or via a streamlined probate process, but the law in most states still requires filing the Will in probate court. Here’s how to go about it:
    • Ask the court to confirm you as personal representative. Probate court clerks commonly answer basic questions about court procedures but will not provide legal advice particular to your case.
    • In some courts, staff lawyers or clerks will look over probate documents and may point out errors in your papers and tell you how to fix them.
    • Send notice of the probate proceeding to the beneficiaries named in the Will and, if necessary, to such close relatives as a surviving spouse and children who would have been entitled to property had there been no valid Will.
  • Locate and secure the deceased person’s assets and sensibly manage them during the probate process, which commonly takes 12 to 18 months. Depending on the contents of the Will and the financial condition of the estate, this may involve deciding whether to sell real estate or securities owned by the deceased person.
  • Close out the deceased’s day-to-day finances:
    • Terminate leases and other outstanding contracts, as appropriate.
    • Notify any government agencies the deceased dealt with regularly, like the post office, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, of the death.
    • Notify the person’s bank and credit card company.
  • Establish an estate bank account to hold estate assets and to deposit money owed to the deceased person:
    • Paychecks and stock dividends will be deposited into this account.
    • An executor continues paying mortgage payments, utility bills, homeowners insurance premiums and income taxes for the year the person died. He or she even files an income tax return for the full year.
    • If necessary, the executor file federal and state estate tax returns. In some states, including Connecticut, a state estate tax return is required even if no estate tax is due.
  • Pay any debts the estate is legally required to pay. It is important to consult a probate administration attorney to make this determination if you are unsure of which debts must be paid, especially if the debts exceed the estate assets. Notify creditors of the probate proceeding. The required method of notice is set by state law. Creditors then have a certain amount of time, usually between four and six months, to file a claim for payment of any bills or other obligations you haven’t voluntarily paid. As executor, you decide whether a claim is valid.
  • Supervise the distribution of property to people or organizations named in the Will. This includes cash, personal belongings, and real estate.
  • You may need support from an estate attorney, accountant, investment adviser, insurance agent and others to file the necessary paperwork.

An executor asks the probate court to formally close the estate when debts and taxes have been paid and all property distributed to beneficiaries. Of course, you should speak with legal and financial professionals if you have any questions.

You will find that being an executor is a labor of love. It’s about honoring the deceased and carrying out their last wishes.

Do you have questions?

You can count on Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC to provide you with sound guidance and experience in these uncertain times. For assistance with your legal needs, please contact us today at (860) 229-0369, or email us at

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