When you agree to become the executor of someone’s will and therefore the administrator of his or her probate estate after (s)he dies, you take on a substantial responsibility. The main thing you should keep in mind is that you have become a fiduciary. What this means is that you represent the estate and its heirs. You must, therefore, work for their benefit, not your own.

Kiplinger advises that the first thing you will need to do as executor/administrator is to find the deceased’s original will. You will need to file it with the probate court and request letters of administration in order to open the estate. Then you will need to gain access to the decedent’s home so you can do the following:

  • Secure all valuables
  • Collect mail
  • Cancel all credit cards
  • Notify all creditors of the decedent’s death and the fact that you are opening his or her probate estate

You should also order several verified or certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate.

Administering the estate

Once you open the estate, you will need to make a written inventory of all of its assets. You should also contact the decedent’s attorney and/or tax advisors to determine what income and other taxes you will need to pay. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, you may wish to ask the attorney to help you administer the estate. You will not have to pay his or her legal fees yourself; the estate will pay them.

Closing the estate

After paying all of the decedent’s legitimate bills and taxes, you will need to file a final accounting with the probate court that sets forth all the income and expenditures that came into and went out of the estate during your administration. You will pay your own executor fees out of the balance and then distribute everything else to the decedent’s heirs per his or her will.