Dear Lifehacker, My parents have just told me that they have named me as the sole executor of their wills. What does this mean? Am I going to have to read up on different legal things? What does it mean I do? Thanks, Rob
An executor of a will is entrusted with carrying out the wishes of a person after they die. Their responsibilities include collecting and distributing assets of the deceased, paying off outstanding debts and following any additional requests contained within the will such as required funeral arrangements.
You don't need to be a law talkin' guy to be an executor. The first step is to contact the holder of the original will (generally this will be a law firm or trustee office) and request a certified copy. This is important, as having the original document provides authenticity in the event of a dispute.
In Australia, any outstanding tax matters are generally completed shortly after the time of death by the executor. This involves notifying the ATO that the person has died and filling out their final tax return. You'll also need to notify any banks they belonged to. Unfortunately, the money owed to banks and government agencies (if any) takes precedent over you and other beneficiaries.
You should make a checklist of every asset named in the will and ensure it's accounted for. Naturally, physical valuables such as jewelry and family heirlooms should be collected and kept somewhere secure. Leaving these items lying around unattended is obviously unwise -- especially if others have access to your parents' property.
Once the above arrangements have been made, it's time to contact the family members, business partners and any other beneficiaries named in the will. If the value of the combined assets is substantial, you may need to get a lawyer to request a grant of probate from the Supreme Court.
A grant of probate is a legal application authorising banks and other relevant institutions to handle assets in accordance with the executor’s instructions. This is compulsory whenever real estate is involved and other family members may also insist on it.
There are various other factors that you may need to consider, including the rights of mentally disabled beneficiaries, "in specie" distribution requests and the setting up of trustee accounts, to name just a few. If this is all sounding pretty overwhelming, there are various executor checklists and guides available online which are designed to help you through the process.
This one from Victoria's State Trustees website contains an outline of the roles and legal responsibilities of an executor, a detailed checklist of the various estate administration tasks and information about applying for a grant of probate. Good luck!
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