An Executor’s specific priorities will be dependent on the deceased’s circumstances. Immediately after the death the Executor is responsible for arranging for the funeral if it has not already been planned and prepaid. However, the Executor may also be juggling supporting a surviving spouse and dependent children, locating and safeguarding assets and other important time-sensitive issues during the grieving period.
There are many more responsibilities that will be assumed but these, in my opinion, will take priority in most instances.
Does the spouse have access to funds to maintain the family’s lifestyle until time is given to the details of settling the estate of their loved one? Financial institutions will protect the assets of a person and not allow withdrawals except for specific expenses (funeral and probate fees). If the accounts are solely in the name of the deceased, arrangements will have to be made to access day-to-day living funds until the will is probated and potentially reviewed by the legal department of the financial institution, which may take months.
Establishing joint financial accounts requires an un-measurable amount of trust between the people sharing the account. Trust that the funds will be used for their intended purpose such as household expenses, trust that in case of acrimony the financial arrangement will continue, and trust that if financial emergencies occur the communication between the account holders will result in a consensus. Your personal beliefs will dictate whether you establish a joint account with your spouse, but considering this as a method of funding day-to-day living expenses if something should happen to you is one alternative.
If the surviving spouse was not responsible for the family’s financial affairs, they may require substantive support to assume these responsibilities. An Executor may need to time to assist the spouse in understanding and managing the family finances.
Family dynamics may require that the Executor secure assets so that financial and sentimental assets do not disappear. This may include changing locks on properties, installing security cameras and if the property will be vacant notifying the property insurance company.
The Executor has a fiduciary responsibility to all of the beneficiaries and if one or more beneficiary removes assets prior to a distribution to all beneficiaries it becomes the Executor’s responsibility to recover the asset.
This may also apply to sentimental items (personal property). An understanding of the will and any personal effects memorandum and the difference in legality between the two will be necessary for the Executor.
An intimate knowledge of the deceased’s family and a roadmap of the deceased’s assets and obligations are priceless benefits to an Executor which may explain why family members are most often named as Executors or alternate executors.