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What You Should Do Immediately after Your Appointment as Executor of an Estate

Handling an estate can be confusing and overwhelming. After you’ve been appointed as executor, there are some important first steps every executor should take to make things as simple as possible.

  • Adding the executor to insurance policy endorsements:

    • Homeowner’s and other real property insurance — Add your name as executor to any policies of insurance on the decedent’s real estate (and if the decedent’s home is unoccupied, let the insurance company know in case a special rider is needed. Consider adding a security system if there is none and it is warranted, and see if there are any items of unusual value that must be secured).

      In one estate, the decedent hadn’t insured his extensive art collection because it would have been too costly, and he had no home security system in place when he died. The executors immediately secured the art, and it eventually became a major part of a museum’s collection. Also consider changing the locks on the decedent’s residence if there is no surviving spouse.

    • Automobile insurance — If someone will be driving the decedent’s car before the title officially transfers to them, inform the auto insurance company right away.

  • Obtaining a federal taxpayer identification number: As soon as you are appointed as executor, you need to apply for a federal taxpayer identification number. It serves the same function as a Social Security number does, and you absolutely need one before you can open any estate bank or transfer any assets to the estate. You also will need it to file the estate’s income tax returns.

  • Projecting your cash flow: As you gather information about the estate assets and liabilities, make a projection of

    • The liquid assets, such as the decedent’s cash on hand (literally) at death, bank accounts, and final paycheck

    • Anticipated payments to the estate, such as life insurance, CDs coming due, and dividends and interest payments

    • Debts of the decedent and anticipated expenses of administration, such as taxes and fees

    Your projection will be just that, but it will be an important means for you to keep a handle on your cash needs as the estate itself flows along. Don’t forget, if the decedent had a funded revocable trust before death, it is now an important source of funds. The trust likely contains a provision enabling the trustee to provide funds to the estate for debts and administration expenses.

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