When a loved one dies, one often feels helpless and alone, despite the many people offering condolences and the outpouring of “let me know if you need anything” offers.

Even letters from creditors of the decedent often offer their support before demanding that bills be paid.  It is nearly impossible to think clearly when a spouse, best friend, or child has passed. If you were the person closest to your deceased loved one, they may have named you Executor of their estate in their will. Once the smoke clears from all of the chaos that comes when someone dies, your job is to carry out the decedent’s wishes and make decisions about how the estate will be divided. If you feel lost in the process, listed below are three initial steps to take as the Executor of an estate.

Locate Estate Planning Documents.

Estate planning documents may be in the form of a Will or a Trust document, or both.  Usually estate planning documents are stored in a safe in the decedent’s home, kept with other important documents within their home, or filed at the court house in the county of domicile. Although we don’t recommend storing your will and other estate planning documents in a safe deposit box because once the owner passes it can be extremely difficult to access, if you cannot locate the documents elsewhere, this might be another place to look.  If the decedent had a regular attorney they used, it would also be a good idea to check with them.

Determine Burial Wishes.

Although we suggest declaring burial wishes in the Health Care Power of Attorney instead of the Will because it is usually kept with the decedent’s health care provider (and often the will isn’t located until it’s too late), many people declare burial wishes in their will. Burial wishes can be very broad, such as a preference to be buried, or very detailed, such as a request to be cremated and scattered over a particular geographical location during a specific time of day. Even though you may not yet be appointed by the court, it is important to try to find out if they had specific wishes that ought to be followed.

Inventory and Creditors.

Ascertain the decedent’s assets, such as real estate, vehicles, and bank accounts and determine the value of the property, real and personal. How these items will be distributed can depend on many other factors, but can be crucial in determining what property might need to become liquid in order to pay debts. Carefully audit all incoming mail, and pay special attention to bills and bank statements. You will need this information to send notice to creditors and access accounts.

While these are good places to initiate the process of administering an estate, it is a good idea to consult with a North Carolina licensed attorney about any legal questions you may have about the process of administering an estate. If you have found yourself in this unfortunate situation, call (919) 244-2019 to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney.

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