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

5 answers | Last updated: Dec 05, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

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

Expert Answers

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.

Community Answers

Suzanne wolfson mba, cfp answered...

I think the above answer is absolutely correct, but want to make note of a common problem that occurs after a death. Heirs can very rudely rush in and remove items without control or approval of the executor or trustee. Additionally they pressure for immediate resolution or liquidation of assets, which might not be in the best interest of the other heirs. People need time to grieve before major financial decisions are made, though getting thing in order, knowing what is there is an excellent recommendation for beginning the process.

Suzanne WOlfson Financial Planner for Retirement

A fellow caregiver answered...

One more thing you need to know is who does she owe? My dad passed away 9 months ago. I thought I had everyone paid yet. Yesterday I got a bill I had no idea he owed. His estate had already been settled. I even got letter's asking for money from the medicare dept. for rembursiment of money they paid out for his medical care. Thinking maybe he had a saving account they could collect from. He didn't but, I had to prove that to them. Once I did they excepted the proof.

What I am trying to tell you is when you settle up with your bro. and sis. remember and tell them if other bills do come in the total will be divided between them. Either that or keep back some of the money to take care of odd bills for a longer period of time say a year or so. Just in case. Then divide it up.

Donoharm answered...

Good advice came from our banker. When one spouse dies, keep their name on that checking account open for minimum a year, adding a third name of the caretaker, or executor or family member to make deposits or pay any bills, if the surviving parent is not able. If any checks come in, it can be deposited in their account and a new account for "The Estate of ..." won't have to be opened.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Yes I do agree but, if that is not a spouse that makes it harder to do. Like in the case of my dad I could not do that. The estate had to be closed and therefore, the checking account had to be closed as well. He had two one was a trust checking account. According to the bank both had to be closed because, they cannot keep them on the books when there is no activity. They will slowly take the money themselves as service charges each month. Then close out the accounts themselves.