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The Executor Checklist: 7 Tasks Before They Die

Being named as the executor of an estate can be daunting for those who are unprepared for the task. Some simple steps while the testator is living can make the job much easier.


Both you and the person who chose you as executor will have greater peace of mind if you get together and do some proper planning for the responsibilities ahead.

  • With proper preparation, you and the testator can be confident you’ll carry out your responsibilities as executor properly.
  • You and the testator need to get together to make sure you’ll have all the information you will need.
  • The testator should have already compiled all of the relevant documentation as part of the process of writing a will.
  • Personal preferences can also be communicated.

1. Know the Location of the Will and Other Documents

This is an obvious and vital first step. The executor’s job is easier if the testator keeps the original will, deeds, insurance policies, partnership documents, or other important papers in an agreed-upon location (in the home or a safe deposit box) and keeps copies at a backup location. The copies can be held directly by the executor or by the testator’s lawyer.


Remember that access to a safe deposit box could be restricted once the testator dies. It is helpful if more than one person, such as a spouse, has access to the box.

2. Make Property and Accounts Joint

A testator who has a spouse will want to be sure that the assets transfer to their control quickly and seamlessly.


The simplest way to ensure this is to set all accounts as joint and make sure that properties and titles are in both names. This also applies to business enterprises involving a partner. This has the added benefit of reducing the size of any estate taxes that are due as long as both spouses do not die simultaneously.


The executor should also have the testator confirm that the correct beneficiary is named for all accounts that demand a specification. These include pensions, retirement accounts, bank accounts, insurance policies, and brokerage accounts.


If the testator is divorced, remarries, outlives a child, or experiences some similarly significant event, the list of beneficiaries will need updating.

3. Record the Testator’s Preferences

If you don’t know, you should ask how the testator prefers to be memorialized.


A testator may prefer a burial plot or a cremation, a large wake or a private funeral. Does the person have a favorite charity for any requested donations?


These preferences should be written down and signed by the testator. Planning it out in advance will be a relief to the person’s heirs as well.

4. List Possessions and Assign Recipients

There is one common trouble many executors overlook—dispersing personal possessions that might have little financial value but great sentimental value.


Working with the testator, an executor can create a rough draft of a list for the dispersal of personal items, as well as a system of distribution. The testator could also write their reasoning for who got what gift.


This may offer comfort and avoid family squabbles. Moreover, it will help the executor to track down loans or gifts given during the lifetime of the testator.


High-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) frequently give financial gifts before death. Organized dispersal can make an executor’s job easier and help balance issues of fairness.


Important: The executor should have the testator confirm that the correct beneficiary is named for pensions, financial accounts, and insurance policies. This will ensure that the accounts are transferred promptly.

5. Set Up a Yearly Accounting Sheet and Updating Schedule

Computers make it easier to track changes in accounts and possessions. If the testator keeps track of the estate electronically, the executor will have a good snapshot of assets when it’s needed.


This e-document will also cut the time spent looking for that gold watch the testator gave to a grandchild or tracking funds that have been transferred to another account.

6. Have a Sealed Online Accounts Document

An executor should have a record of the testator’s online presence on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Paypal, and eBay so that the accounts can be deactivated.


In most cases, accounts can be deactivated by presenting a copy of a death certificate. Having a list will simplify this process.

7. Know the Relevant Professionals

Executors should have contact details for the accountant, lawyer, and other professionals the testator employs.


These people may have further information or advice specific to the testator’s situation.

What Are the Duties of an Executor?

The main duty of an executor is to carry out the instructions of a deceased person for the distribution of the person’s assets upon his or her death. The executor is named by the testator or by a court.


As such, the executor must make sure that all of the testator’s financial assets and personal possessions wind up in the right hands as promptly as possible.


The executor also is responsible for tying up any loose ends, such as paying bills owed by the testator and closing accounts.

How Do I Choose an Executor?

The most important factor is to choose someone you know to be trustworthy and capable. Most choose a family member or close personal friend. From a practical viewpoint, the person should live nearby. Some states have specific restrictions but these are usually limited: the person must be at least 18 years old, be a U.S. resident, and not be incapacitated.

Are There Downsides to Being an Executor?

Yes. Serving as an executor is something you want to do only for a dear friend or family member. It’s a great responsibility. It can be time-consuming. And it can put you in the middle of family squabbles that you didn’t want to know about.

The Bottom Line

Preparation can greatly reduce the complications of being an executor. Taking the steps above while the testator is alive will help you carry out his or her wishes properly.


Testators can also be proactive about setting up such processes to make their executor’s job easier.


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