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What to do when someone dies? Thumbnail

What to do when someone dies?

If you are like most people, you don’t spend much time thinking about your own demise. But when you die, someone is going to have to take care of your affairs. If you have a will and other estate planning documents in place, you’ll be leaving a wonderful gift behind because you’ll be simplifying what can be a lengthy and often complex process.

In a will you designate an executrix (female) or executor (male). This is the person who will be legally authorized to make decisions about your estate when you die. This person is in charge of settling your estate and dispersing your possessions and assets. They can help:

  • Pass real estate and other jointly held assets to the surviving joint tenant
  • Move bank accounts and securities registered as “Transfer on Death (TOD)” to beneficiaries
  • Move IRAs and retirement plans to accounts for named beneficiaries
  • Move property left to the surviving spouse, or assets held in trusts to named beneficiaries

You should keep in mind that settling an estate can take up to two years to complete. The time it takes depends on the complexity of the estate, but most of our clients have significant assets including property in multiple states and perhaps a small business. Each of these elements can require time to identify and then determine the best way to dispose of or liquidate it.

It is best to let any potential heirs know that settlement will take time, too, so that they have the right expectations. So, if you have been named as someone’s executrix or executor, take your time. This additional time can give the family and heirs time to adjust to the person’s passing and make wise decisions. If the deceased died unexpectedly, more time can be especially helpful.

Here’s what you’ll need to do if you are the executrix or executor of an estate:

Determine what assets need to go through probate (IRAs, retirement plans and insurance policies with beneficiaries usually do not pass through probate because the beneficiary has already been specified).

Determine if you need to hire a lawyer. If your estate is greater than $1 million, the estate will be subject to state estate taxes in Massachusetts (and many other states, too). For many estates greater than this amount, hiring a lawyer is advisable.

Other responsibilities of the executrix/executor:

  • File the will and notify beneficiaries
  • Find and locate assets
  • Handle the daily responsibilities of the estate
  • Establish a bank account
  • Pay taxes and expenses
  • Pay debts, notify creditors and cancel subscriptions
  • Distribute property

When all of this is done and the final tax returns have been filed, the estate can be closed.

Do you have other questions about the role of an executrix or executor? Give us a call. We can help you find an estate planning attorney that is a good fit for your estate.

Lyman H. Jackson



Financial Planning Solutions, LLC (FPS) is a Registered Investment Advisor. FPS provides this blog for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, tax, or legal advice. FPS only renders personalized advice to each client after entering into an advisory relationship. Information herein includes opinions and forward-looking statements that may not come to pass. Information is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Information is at a point in time and subject to change without notice. Such information may not be independently verified by FPS. Please see important disclosures link at the bottom of this page.

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