Being selected as an executor of a will is an honor and a solemn obligation, and it can also be a complicated and time-consuming process. While only some people will be asked to administer an estate in their lifetime, few are ready for the task.

An executor is charged with carrying out the final wishes for a deceased person. He or she must protect the estate’s assets, offer the will for probate, distribute assets to beneficiaries and make sure all debts and taxes for the estate are paid.

Four stages of probate

Once you become the executor of an estate, it can be a steep learning curve. The four main phases are:

  • Finding the will and protecting assets: You must find the original will, cancel the person’s credit cards, access the home and safeguard valuables. You may also want to collect mail, forward future mail, dispose of prescription drugs and secure death certificates.
  • Find legal representation and submit the will: Selecting an experienced estate administration and probate attorney is key to maintaining a smooth process. Track all your expenses as you will likely have initial out-of-pocket costs that will eventually be paid by the estate.
  • Administering the estate: Once a court recognizes you as the executor, the hard work begins as you will do everything from selling real estate and tracking down accounts that may be hard to find, to liquidating assets and paying every creditor who has a claim against the estate. You could be held personally liable for intentional or negligent acts, so be thorough.
  • Pay beneficiaries and close the estate: Once all the assets have been collected, debts paid and all other business has been wrapped up, it’s time to pay the beneficiaries, as well as the executor commission for yourself, which is either stated in the will or a percentage set by the state. Once all distributions are made, you must send a final inventory to the court.

Patience and diligence are key qualities for an executor

If there are no complicating factors, such as a person or creditor contesting the will, probate can last one to three months. However, if complications arise, it can be a lengthy process. An experienced probate and estate administration attorney here in New York can help you follow all the proper steps in administering an estate and making sure the wishes of the deceased are carried out.