How to Advise an Executor

BONUS CHECKLIST: 14 questions to answer.

By Ed Mendlowitz

QUESTION: I have a client who became the executor after his mother died. He has a brother and two sisters. They asked me to advise them, but I am not that familiar with handling estates. Is there anything you can tell me to get me started?

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ANSWER: It is never good to work on things you are not familiar with, but doing so can provide that familiarity, as long as you cannot do any harm to the client. One of the things you can do is help the client assemble the information, after which you can review it with them and refer them to an attorney, who you could then assist and work with them under his or her direction. That’s how experience start.
Also, any preliminary work you do will add value since it would make it easier for the attorney. Following is a preliminary listing of information you should ask for.

  1. Copy of will
  2. Copies of any trusts executed by mother
  3. Ask for copies of any gift tax returns that were ever filed
  4. Listing of any gifts or transfers that were made in last three years if over $13,000 per person for each year
  5. Listing of other assets mother owned and how they are titled
  6. Whether your client and his siblings are holding any of their mother’s funds in joint accounts or in their own account that the mother gave them
  7. Mother’s last three income tax returns (if they have them, but must have at least the last one she filed)
  8. Was mother a citizen of U.S. and what state she was domiciled in
  9. If not a citizen of U.S., then what country was she a citizen of, and where she lived
  10. Was there any life insurance on mother’s life – if so, need details of each policy or a Form 712 from insurance company for each policy that already made payments
  11. Description of any real estate mother owned and if rental properties, details of the rent income and copies of any leases; and copies of the last real estate tax bills
  12. Was will probated? – need copy of probate papers
  13. Was an estate bank account opened?
  14. If a TIN was received for the estate then a copy of the IRS letter with the number

The above should get you started.