What is my first step in administering a will for my mother?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What is my first step in administering a will for my mother?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

As executor, the bulk of your job will be to round up your mother's assets and distribute them as the will directs.

So the first step is to locate her property--and the difficulty of that task will likely depend on how organized she was during life. What you're looking for is a big picture of the valuable property she owned. Beyond checking the spots where people often squirrel away money, such as under mattresses or in old shoeboxes, your best bet is to scan desks, filing cabinets, checkbooks, and credit card statements for copies of payments of:

  • Insurance premiums
  • Car registrations
  • Expenses connected with real estate, such as property taxes and utilities
  • Income taxes
  • Contributions to retirement or investment accounts
  • Storage unit rentals (such units often turn up surprising property)
  • Contributions to charity, and
  • Safe deposit rentals.

Tax returns can also be important sources of information.

Then make a list of all the assets and estimate the value of each.

You will need to list all the known debts, such as mortgages and expenses of a last illness. And finally, find out how title was held to property such as cars and houses.

This step will get you through the bulk of your job--determining what your mother had and had not--and will help you match the property to the plan for how it should be divided and distributed as stated in the will.