Three tips for executors of an estate in New York

Getting asked to serve as an executor is a great compliment, and a great responsibility. These tips can help ease the burden.

Getting named the executor of an estate is both a compliment and a responsibility. Those who find themselves in this situation first have to decide whether or not they will accept the role. It can help to have a better understanding of what it means to be an executor.

Executor in New York: defined

An executor is the individual named in a person's will to distribute the assets that make up the estate. The New York State Unified Court System explains that this person is expected to "act faithfully towards the estate and not put their interests ahead" of the duty to the estate.

This role of an executor is generally broken down into three components. First, the executor must gather and value all the assets of the estate. Next, the executor must pay off any bills. This can include taxes that are due and obligations to other creditors. Finally, once the first two steps are completed the executor can distribute the assets as outlined in the will.

Taking on the role of an executor: tips to ease the burden

Those who take on this role are expected to distribute the estate in accordance with the owner's wishes. These tips can help ease the process:

  • Get organized. Gather copies of the death certificate as well as any documents pertaining to the will or trusts, if present. Death certificates are needed to notify banks, insurance companies, investment firms and others about the death of the owner of the estate. It is wise to get more death certificates than the executor anticipates needing.
  • Find the assets. This tip encompasses the bulk of the main steps that are inherent to the position of the executor. Locate bank accounts, retirement accounts, business interests, property and any other pieces of property that are part of the estate. Take steps to protect the property. This can include paying bills on time and making sure that any antiques, jewelry, artwork or other portable valuables are properly stored.
  • Get help. Serving as an executor is not an easy task. In many cases, it is wise to seek legal counsel for guidance during the process. An experienced New York estate planning lawyer can help to better ensure that you meet all your obligations as an executor, while also taking some of the burden that comes with this role.

When serving as an executor of an estate it is important to always keep the primary responsibility in mind: the estate. You are not there to make beneficiaries happy. You are there to honor the owner's wishes and protect the estate until it is ready for distribution.