As the executor of someone’s estate, the responsibility rests with you to take his or assets through the probate process after (s)he dies. The American Bar Association points out that the most important aspect of your duties lies in the fact that in all that you do, you are a fiduciary. This means that your foremost duty is to act in the best interests of the estate and its heirs.
The second most important thing to remember is that no one expects you to be perfect in the fulfillment of your duties. As long as you put forth your best efforts, no one will sue you for breach of your fiduciary duties if you make a mistake.
You will need to apply to the Probate Court of the county in which the deceased person lived for Letters Testamentary in order to open the estate. Be prepared to show the judge a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate as well as the original, not a copy, of his or her Last Will and Testament.
Once you open the estate, you will then need to collect, secure and inventory all of the decedent’s probate assets. You must subsequently notify all of the decedent’s creditors that (s)he died and that you opened the estate. After they file claims against the estate and the probate judge approves those claims, you must pay the creditors.
Depending on the nature of the estate and the extent of its assets, probate can take from a few months to more than a year. During this period you will manage the estate’s assets. You may need to make investments and/or sell some of the assets in order to pay the decedent’s outstanding bills and taxes.
Once you pay all the bills, you must construct a written final estate accounting to present to the Probate Court. At this point the judge will give you permission to close the estate and distribute the remaining assets to the decedent’s heirs according to the provisions in his or her Last Will and Testament.