How To Be the Executor of a Deceased's Estate


Being named as the executor of a person’s will or estate is an important responsibility. In addition to making sure that the decedent’s last wishes are complied with, you need to settle the decedent’s debts and file the estate’s paperwork with the federal government. Complying with all formal requirements is vital and will protect you and the decedent’s estate from needless complications.

Find the will. A person’s will state’s his wishes regarding how his property is to be divided and is the document governing what the executor should do with the deceased’s property. If the deceased failed to complete a will, the deceased’s property will be placed in intestacy in the state in which he died.

Apply for an employer identification number (EIN) for the estate. This is the number you will use for returns, statements and other documentation. This is also the number you provide to people who need to make filings related to the estate. You can obtain an EIN from the IRS by filing a request either online, by phone, via fax, through the mail or at an IRS branch office. It will take anywhere from one to five weeks to receive your EIN.

Locate all of decedent’s property and calculate all of his debts. As the executor, it is your responsibility to know of all the decedent’s property and to whom the decedent owed money. You will pay off all of the decedent’s debts and then distribute the remaining property to the beneficiaries, based on either the will or the local state’s probate laws.

Notify beneficiaries. The beneficiaries need to be made aware of the property they will be receiving.

Determine whether the decedent made any income in the year of his death and file his final income tax returns. At the top of the return, note the taxpayer's name, that he is deceased and the date of death. As executor, sign the return.

Determine whether the decedent’s estate is subject to taxes. In 2011, if the value of the estate was under $5 million, the estate was not subject to taxes. Guidelines are subject to change, so check current tax rules. If the estate is taxable, you need to file a Form 706 with the IRS.

Tips & Warnings

  • With most estates it is a good idea to contact an attorney to help you navigate the estate process. For tax filings, keep a copy of all related documents to protect against audit for at least two years. This article does not replace legal advice. Because each situation is different, please consult an expert or an attorney.

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