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Being the executor of an estate doesn't have to be overwhelming

Being the executor of your loved one's estate is a great honor -- but it can also be incredibly overwhelming. Other family members may all turn to you at once with their questions, requests and need for guidance. In addition, the responsibility of safeguarding the deceased's assets until probate is finished can seem daunting.

What can you do to keep the task from becoming too much to handle?

Take a realistic approach

Ask yourself if this is really too much responsibility given the circumstances of your current life.

When the deceased chose you as his or her executor, your circumstances may have been different. Maybe it was before you had children or maybe you've developed health problems since then. If your life is too chaotic or draining right now, consider declining to serve.

If you decline, the person named in the deceased's will as your alternative will be asked to serve. If there is no alternative choice, the probate judge will assign the task to someone else who steps forward or a professional.

Get support services

If you do decide to serve as executor, consider hiring some support services.

Legal and financial advice regarding an estate's disposition can make the probate process go much more smoothly -- and take some of the worry off your mind about tax compliance and other issues.

Make a checklist of tasks

There are a number of basic tasks you need to do in order to properly handle an estate. A checklist is a great way to keep organized. Make sure that you do the following things:

  • Secure the deceased's property: Make sure that you round up any car keys and change the locks on the house (if the deceased lived alone). Notify any banks involved so that the deceased's accounts are suspended.
  • Locate the original will and other end-of-life documents: Hopefully, the deceased told you where to look. If not, you may have to go on a search.
  • Apply for authorization from the court: You'll need the court's confirmation of your status as executor in order to legally file the deceased's tax returns, distribute his or her assets, close bank accounts and access social media accounts.

It's important to take your time during this process. While relatives may be pressing you to hurry up and distribute their inheritance, doing so prematurely is a big mistake.

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