I’ve been appointed Executor or Administrator of an Estate – What’s next?

An Executor is someone appointed by a Court to supervise execution of a Will that was admitted for probate. An Administrator is someone appointed by the Court to supervise an estate where there was not a Will. After you’re appointed, there are a number of responsibilities including the following:

  • If there’s a Will, READ the Will. If there is any portion of the Will you don’t understand, speak with a lawyer. Assuming the Will was admitted for Probate, then you have the powers specified in the Will. If you want to do something that is not authorized in the Will, or if there’s no Will, you might need prior permission from the Court. Again, ask your lawyer.
  • Make sure any required notices to debtors and creditors are published. Usually the Court will give you a copy of the notice you need to publish. If not, ask your lawyer.
  • Don’t hide the ball. The quickest way to end up on the wrong end of a judge’s bad temper is cheating someone and people are more inclined to think you’re cheating them when you hide the ball. Keep good records and keep everything on the table. Pretend like you will need to justify everything you do from the witness stand and act accordingly.
  • Notify all appropriate entities:
    • Social Security
    • Veterans Administration
    • Life Insurance Companies
    • Credit card companies
    • Banks
    • Mortgage holders
    • Retirement plans
  • Unless they are waived, the Court will require that you prepare and file an inventory and secure a fiduciary bond from an insurance company.
  • Identify all estate assets and secure them so they don’t grow legs and walk off. Get vehicle keys. Change locks.
    • As a general rule, anything that passes under a beneficiary designation (e.g., retirement accounts) is not an estate asset. Property that is jointly held with rights of survivorship is not an estate asset. If you’re not sure whether property is or is not part of the estate, ask your lawyer.
    • If the decdent owned real estate in another State, you might need an ancillary probate unless muniment of title procedure is available where the land is located.
    • Review all deeds. If the decedent owned real estate, have new deeds prepared conveying the land to the beneficiary/heir before you close the estate. Otherwise you might need to re-open the estate later when you try to sell the property.
  • Idenitfy all estate debts. Review them and make sure they are valid claims. If you suspect a claim is not valid, file an objection with the Court.
  • If the Estate needs a bank account, then you will need an Employer’s Identification Number (EIN) for the estate.
  • If the Estate owns a business or owes payments on a mortgage or a financed vehicle, make arrraingements to ensure those assets are managed appropriately and protected. This might include hiring a new manager for a business the decdent ran, selling the business or closing down the business. Making payments as due prevents a lien holder from seizing financed assets.
  • If the Estate owes taxes , you’re responsible for making sure taxes are paid before any funds are distributed to heirs. If the estate owns capital assets, you will want valuations as of the date of death to secure a step-up in basis. Unless you really know what you’re doing, hiring an accountant is a good investment of estate funds.
  • If you have enough money to pay all valid estate debts, then any excess should be distributed to the persons named in the Will. If there is no Will, then the excess is distributed to heirs-at-law. Remember, you’re owed a commission so you’re a creditor who gets paid before heirs (if you want it). If there isn’t enough money to pay all valid estate debts, the law (in Georgia O.C.G.A. § 53-7-40) provides for a pecking order regarding who gets paid first.
    • As a general rule, non-probate assets are not subject to claims against the estate, but you should ask your lawyer if you have questions.
  • It’s best to prepare a settlement statement and have everyone sign it BEFORE you distribute any money. That way you know whether there are any disagreements and, once you distribute money, it’s difficult to get it back. In Georgia, if you can’t get everyone to agree on how the estate is distributed, you can file a petition to settle the estate.
    • If EVERYONE agrees, you can usually do anything legal, such as including someone who was excluded from the Will. HOWEVER, when we say everyone, we mean EVERYONE. If anyone objects, the Judge will enforce the terms of the Will.
  • When you’re done and any required waiting period has expired, file a Petition to Close the Estate.
  • A longer list of tasks that need to be performed after someone dies is on our page regarding what’s next after someone dies.


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