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Wills and estate planning

What to do when a parent dies and you are the executor

The days, weeks, months and even years after the death of a parent can be challenging, especially if your parent passed suddenly and you didn't have much time to prepare.

Beyond grieving, you might also have some additional responsibilities — preparing for the funeral, focusing on financial and legal matters, and preparing your parent's estate.

While you'll have a lot on your plate, it's also important to know what to do during this stressful and emotional time, especially if you're the executor of the will.

During the estate planning process it's common to name someone as the executor of the will. This helps ensure that upon death, the last wishes detailed in the will are followed.

Many people who have children will often pick one as the executor of the will. If you've been given this role by your parent, it's important to understand some of the key duties you'll need to take care of over the coming months.

The duties of the executor of a will

As the executor of the will, you'll have a variety of duties — both short- and long-term. This checklist will help you break down what you'll need to focus on.

What to do right away

Although this is a difficult time, as the executor you will need to complete some tasks right away.

Gather important documents — Once you've begun the funeral process, you'll need to start collecting key records and documents. To start life insurance claims, you'll need a certified copy of the death certificate.

Ideally, before your parent passed, he or she let you know where the will and other important documents, including life insurance and other policies and deeds, were kept. You'll need to gather these so you can read through the will and understand your parent's last wishes.

Start the notification process — You'll likely have a variety of people that you'll need to notify of your parent's passing, including their accountant, lawyer and any business partners. Your parent's lawyer can help start the probate process by filing the will.

If your parent was collecting Social Security, you'll have to contact the office to stop payments, otherwise you'll have to repay any payments received after death.

Determine if you'll need a lawyer — If your parent already had a lawyer who is up to date with his or her will and last wishes, that person can become a key ally during the estate settlement process. On the other hand, if your parent didn't, you'll need to consider if you want to hire one to help you navigate the next steps.

This isn't required, but it's something to think about, especially if you're new to the duties and aren't exactly sure how to proceed.

What to do over the coming weeks — In the weeks and months following your parents passing, you will need to pay attention to some additional tasks.

Review the finances — If your parent had any bank accounts, retirement or investment accounts, you will also have to gather that information. This is not only to determine the values of the accounts but to also identify any beneficiaries.

If your parent lived in a home they owned, you'll also need to determine how the mortgage will be maintained or if the house should be listed for sale.

Continue notifying parties — After a few weeks, you will want to continue the notification process. Your parent likely had bills, including credit cards, utilities, subscriptions and memberships that will have to be cancelled.

At this time, you should also start notifying any listed beneficiaries, both from the will and other policies and accounts.

Manage funds — Over time, you might have to manage the funds left by any insurance policies, as well as other assets. Part of this will include paying off any debts or loans that were left, in addition to taking care of taxes and any other financial distributions, as requested.

The importance of having life insurance

It's never easy to lose a parent, but the more prepared you are for the next steps, the better. Although the process is difficult, knowing that your parent had protections in place and trusted you to execute his or her will is something that might help.

Having insurance is really all about protecting loved ones. To truly offer financial protection for your beneficiaries, life insurance is key.

Learn how you can protect your family when they'll need it the most with life insurance.


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