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Preparing for your role as estate executor

When the phone call comes of the passing of your loved one, you may not have much time to grieve before having to get right to work fulfilling your duties as an estate executor. You may be one of the many for whom handling the final requests of a loved one is a unique and intimidating experience. In fact, you may have the overwhelming feeling of being completely out of your comfort zone.

There may be many reasons why your loved one chose you, including the fact that you are organized and methodical, two qualities that are essential for an estate executor. Perhaps you have experience with the law or have undertaken this responsibility for others in the past. However, more than likely, you were chosen not for any special gifts you possess, but rather because you are the eldest in the family, because of your gender or for some arbitrary reason that really won't help you administer the estate effectively.

Where do you even start?

Hopefully, your deceased loved one informed you well in advance of the role you will play in settling the estate. This would have allowed you time to ask questions and clarify some of the elements in the person's will. It would have also given you the chance to learn where to find the will after the loved one's passing since this will be one of the first things you will want to do.

You will need to file a copy of the will with the Florida probate court within 10 days after learning of your loved one's passing. The probate court will officially give you authority to handle the estate by giving you "letters testamentary." Banks and other institutions will require this proof of your authority before allowing you access to your loved one's accounts and personal information.

Fulfilling your obligations

Another document of which you will need numerous copies is the death certificate. If your loved one receives benefits from the Social Security Administration or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or if he or she has life insurance policies, investments, bank accounts or taxes to file, these agencies will demand copies of the death certificate to close the accounts or distribute finds. It will be especially important that you contact SSA soon after your loved one dies to avoid the complication of repaying money received after the fact.

Other tasks that will fall to you include the following:

  • Using estate assets to pay any outstanding bills
  • Filing a final tax return and paying any tax debt
  • Creating an inventory of the assets
  • Keeping the assets safe until probate is complete or distributing them according to the terms of a trust

Perhaps one of the most helpful steps you can take during this time is to seek the counsel and assistance of an attorney who practices estate planning and probate law in Florida. Such an attorney will have a firm grasp of state laws concerning probate and will help you through the process with minimal frustration or personal risk.

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