You’ve been named as the executor of a loved one’s estate, and you’re honored to be trusted with the role – but you aren’t quite sure where you’re supposed to start.
With relatives clamoring for your attention and eager to gain access to family heirlooms, priceless mementos and their inheritance, you feel both the pressure to get started and the need to get things right. Here’s a step-by-step guide that may help:
- Explain to the family what they should expect.
Most people have little or no idea of what actually needs to happen after a loved one dies, nor what an executor has to do. Make contact with the deceased’s heirs (even if they’re your own relatives) and let them know that you have to follow the legal process before anything can be distributed. Reassure them that everybody will get what they’re due to receive as soon as possible.
- Secure the property of the deceased.
You need to do your best to make sure that the deceased’s property is secured until this process is over – so that nobody walks off with Aunt Martha’s china or Uncle Bob’s watch. Change the locks on the house, put the car in the garage, arrange for the mail to be stopped until you’re ready to collect it, empty the fridge and find temporary homes for any pets or plants.
- Gather all the important documents and obtain death certificates.
You can’t proceed with probate until you have the will and a death certificate in hand – but you will need multiple certified copies of the death certificate to close out the deceased’s bank accounts, transfer funds out of their investment accounts, close credit cards and do all the other necessary tasks associated with an estate.
- Determine the correct procedure for this estate.
Colorado has both an informal, less-involved probate process and a formal probate process. Which one you need to use depends largely on the complexity of the estate and the likelihood of any disputes. Once you know which method you have to use, you can open the probate and move forward.
Dealing with probate is not something many people do more than once in a lifetime, and it’s not easy to sort out all the legalities. It’s often wisest to get some experienced legal guidance from the very start. That can protect both the estate and reduce any potential legal hassles you may face as the executor.