Being the executor of an estate is a big job. How big? After a loved one dies, It can take 18 months or more to settle their estate, with the executor racking up more than 500 hours of work, on average.
As the person who is legally empowered to act on behalf of the estate, the executor is in charge of paying debts, filing taxes, shepherding the estate through the probate process, and more. And while many people choose their most reliable relative as their executor, the person others are always depending upon, during grief they may themselves need help in ways they never have before.
Keep in mind that they are dealing with a death of someone very close to them, so they may be carrying the weight of these extra responsibilities just as the foundations of their life have been shaken. As the saying goes, “check on the strong ones.” The cognitive effects of grief can make even the most organized, confident person feel lost and overwhelmed at times—and they may be unaccustomed to asking anyone for assistance.
Consider these three ways of offering support, to make sure your loved one’s executor knows they are not alone in this.
You don’t have to be the executor to do a lot of the legwork involved in settling your loved one’s affairs. There are a lot of ways to be helpful and cut their total workload.
To begin with, cleaning out your loved one’s house and dealing with their personal belongings is a difficult, emotional task for many people. Volunteering to help or lead the way on this effort takes some particularly tough work off of the executor’s plate.
You could also offer to do some research and reconnaissance on financial and legal matters. Notifying financial institutions, creditors, and other companies about your loved one’s death may be something only the executor can do. But by tracking down what each account requires to be closed (a death certificate and other relevant documents, for instance), you can clear the path for the executor to get through them more quickly.
Finally, let your talents guide you. If you’re a person the executor confides in, check in regularly. Whether it’s a quick conversation or a heart-to-heart, you’re making the executor feel connected and supported.
As the months go by and the initial mourning period ends, simple things like cooking meals, cleaning the house, or taking the kids out for the day can be lifesavers.
An executor must make sure that every part of probate is completed according to the law and what is designated in the will. However, in the ideal scenario, an executor is more of a project manager, directing others who will actually do the detailed work of probate.
They may need to hire several different kinds of professionals: an estate lawyer to guide the probate process, assessors to estimate the value of property and assets, a CPA to file taxes, or real estate agents and estate liquidators to help sell the house and its contents.
Reach out to your network for referrals so you can give the executor as many reliable options as possible. Or do some research of your own to find the most well-regarded professionals within the estate’s budget.
Any legwork you put in lessens the load for the executor—and finding professionals who will do a great job helps them even more.
Sometimes grief is too much to handle. Even people who are generally highly motivated and productive can find themselves devastated to the point where even getting out of bed or eating is difficult.
If the executor of your loved one’s estate does not feel able to handle the job for any reason, make sure they know they can resign. Changing executors is a common occurrence, and the procedure for choosing a new one is clear, ensuring the estate will remain in good hands.
However, they must make a clear choice to step down, and notify the court of their intention to do so. If they are unsure and draw the decision out, they will remain executor—and then if they do not fulfill their responsibilities or perform them poorly or incompletely, they could face civil and even criminal penalties.
If you know an executor who is struggling, therefore, the best way to support them is to make sure they understand the stakes. If resigning is the right choice, make sure they take action.
However you choose to show up for a family member or close friend who is serving as an executor, remember that in grief we can all feel stretched beyond our capabilities. By offering a helping hand—whether they take you up on it or not—you’re making the executor's seemingly endless workload that much lighter ●
Probate is often a long and complex process, but it is also completely manageable if you stay organized and follow the instructions of the court. It’s definitely still a good idea to avoid the full probate process, if you can. We’ll walk you through whichever scenario applies to your loved one’s estate.