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  • Ben Dickens

What to do as the Executor of a Will


The role of executing a will often falls upon the shoulders of a trusted friend or family member, a responsibility that can be challenging, particularly during a time of loss. It's important to grant yourself the necessary space to process your grief before diving into the executor's duties. While most tasks do not demand immediate attention, there can be certain time-sensitive matters to address. The following article will guide you through some of these critical steps. Remember, during moments of uncertainty, it's prudent to seek advice from a professional specializing in estate law to ensure you're properly fulfilling your responsibilities.


Overall, the role of the executor of a deceased estate includes multiple responsibilities and duties. These can include:


1. Organising the funeral and other practicalities such as obtaining the death certificate and searching for an original Will.

2. Obtaining a Grant of Probate (the process of certification by the Supreme Court of the Will)

3. Calling in the Estate. That is identifying and valuing the assets of the estate.

4. Paying any debts of the estate.

5. If applicable dealing with any potential claimants (hopefully this is not the case!)

6. Distributing the estate.


As well as this there are several other practicalities and responsibilities that may come your way as an appointed executor. Let’s focus on the things that may need to be done in the immediate aftermath of someone’s passing.


It is important to note that some of these tasks can be performed by someone other than the appointed executor. Urgency may necessitate this. For example, a funeral may need to be arranged within a strict time period due to religious or cultural reasons.

Firstly, you need to focus on the Will as it is an extremely important document. You should custody the original will in a safe, dry and preferably theft and fireproof location. You will need the Will to take to a lawyer (they can also make certified copies for you) to obtain advice on making a probate application.


Intermeddling


What is important is that not too much is done without a grant of probate. In particular you should not ‘deal’ with the assets or debts of the estate. If you do so, you may be considered to have “intermeddled” with the estate.


Intermeddling means that you have handled the deceased person’s assets or held yourself out in the role of an executor. This could be collecting an asset or paying a debt. It could also mean you have dealt with handing over an asset to a beneficiary or have been running the deceased’s business after their death.


Certain acts are not regarded as intermeddling, such as arranging a funeral, securing goods or moving assets to a place of safety. By preserving the estate assets initially, you are not considered to be assuming the role of executor.


Intermeddling refers to engaging with the assets of the deceased individual or presenting oneself as an executor. This may involve actions like acquiring an asset or settling a debt. It could also encompass activities such as transferring an asset to a beneficiary or managing the deceased person's business posthumously. Certain actions are not classified as interference, such as organising a funeral, safeguarding possessions, or relocating assets to a secure location. By initially preserving the estate assets, you are not perceived as assuming the executor's responsibilities.


So from this we have a list of things that you may be required to before applying for probate (or while waiting for the grant of probate to be issued). These include:


Securing the Estate


Securing the assets and possessions of a recently deceased person is a process that requires careful consideration and diligence. To start, it's critical to locate and gather key documents such as wills, trusts, deeds, insurance policies, bank statements, and other legal or financial records. These important documents offer invaluable insights into the deceased person's assets and their designated distribution methods.


Next, focus on securing the physical property of the deceased person. This involves locking their residence, and, if deemed necessary, changing the locks for enhanced security. Any valuable items within the property, such as jewelry or artwork, should be relocated to a safe or a secure location until they can be distributed appropriately or appraised.


The importance of conducting thorough investigations in the context of estate administration cannot be overstated. As an executor, it's your responsibility to ensure that all assets, including bank accounts, share portfolios, and other investments, are identified and accounted for. This involves meticulous examination of financial documents, such as bank statements, that could hint at the existence of hidden or forgotten assets. Any omissions or oversight during this process could lead to potential legal issues, an incomplete distribution of the estate, or missed opportunities to maximize the value of the estate. A comprehensive inquiry not only helps in accurately valuing the estate, but also in correctly carrying out the deceased's final wishes, making it a critical aspect of the executor's role.


It's essential to promptly notify banks, investment firms, and any other financial institutions where the deceased had accounts. Inform them about the death and learn about their specific protocols for managing such accounts. Be prepared to provide a death certificate and other supporting documents as required for freezing or transferring the assets.


Creating an inventory of the deceased person's assets is a crucial step in settling the estate. This inventory should include bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, and any other valuable personal belongings. Make sure that valuable items, such as jewelry, antiques, or collectibles, are stored securely until they can be properly assessed and distributed.


Given the legal and financial complexities involved in estate administration, consulting with professionals, such as attorneys, accountants, or estate administrators, is highly recommended. These experts can provide necessary guidance on probate procedures, estate taxes, and other relevant legal considerations.


Review the insurance policies of the deceased, including life insurance, property insurance, and any other pertinent coverage. Notify the respective insurance companies of the death and determine if any claims need to be filed.


Don't forget about the digital assets, such as email accounts, social media profiles, and online financial accounts. Since laws and policies regarding digital assets can vary, legal advice on the proper handling of these assets can be invaluable. Decide if the deceased person's social media accounts should be closed, or if announcements need to be made via these platforms.


Securing digital assets like cryptocurrency or Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) demands its own set of protocols. Determining how the deceased person managed these assets is crucial. You will need to identify whether they self-custodied their cryptocurrency in hardware or software wallets or used staking platforms or currency trading exchange platforms. Hardware and software wallets are the most secure methods of storing digital currencies, often involving private keys, passphrases, or seeds, which you will need to locate and secure. Staking platforms and exchange platforms may require a different process, as they involve third-party services that usually require user accounts and passwords. Be prepared to provide these platforms with proof of death and legal documentation that verifies your authorization to access these assets. Owing to the pseudonymous nature of cryptocurrencies and the complexity of digital assets, it's essential to seek legal counsel knowledgeable in digital asset management. They can provide guidance on how to navigate these complex processes while maintaining compliance with existing laws and regulations.


Throughout the process, maintaining detailed records of all actions taken is of utmost importance. This includes documenting communications, submitted documents, and secured assets, which provides transparency and a clear record of the estate administration process.


Each situation is unique, and the process can vary based on factors like the estate's size, the existence of a will, and relevant laws. Therefore, consulting professionals experienced in estate administration and probate is wise to ensure the proper handling of the deceased person's assets. A qualified lawyer can provide invaluable assistance during this initial phase and outline a plan for your future role as the executor of the estate.


Funeral Arrangements


The process of planning funeral arrangements starts with selecting a reliable funeral director. Their role is crucial, given their experience in coordinating funerals and their ability to guide you through the necessary steps such as transporting the deceased, preparing the funeral service, and taking care of any requisite paperwork.


Your next task is to decide the nature of the funeral service. Your choice may range from a traditional funeral service to a memorial service or a celebration of life ceremony. The decision should be based on the deceased's preferences, the family's wishes, and any cultural or religious customs that may apply.


Working closely with your chosen funeral director, you'll need to plan the details of the funeral ceremony. This involves choosing a date, time, and location for the service. It might be a funeral home, a place of worship, a cemetery chapel, or another appropriate venue. This step also includes discussing the order of the ceremony, music selection, readings, and any unique rituals or customs you wish to include.


Another crucial aspect to consider is body disposition, whether opting for burial or cremation. If you choose burial, you'll need to select a cemetery and purchase a burial plot. If cremation is preferred, you'll need to discuss with your funeral director the various options for storing or scattering the ashes.


In addition to these core elements, you might want to consider extra services like embalming, viewing or visitation, and transportation of the deceased to the funeral venue. Again, your funeral director can provide guidance and support in this matter.


To inform the larger community about the death and the details of the funeral service, consider publishing an obituary or death notice on local newspapers or online platforms. This approach will enable friends, acquaintances, and colleagues to offer their condolences and pay their respects.


Next, ensure the practical logistics for family members and friends coming from afar are taken care of, like transportation and accommodation. Coordinate these logistics along with the specifics of the service, such as seating arrangements, audiovisual equipment, and other special requirements, with the funeral director.


In these trying times, grief support services or counselling can be a source of comfort for mourners. Hence, arranging for such services for those who need them is a thoughtful step.


Adding personal touches to the funeral service can make it a true celebration of the deceased's life. This could include displaying personal photographs, playing their favourite music, or allowing attendees to share stories and memories during the service.

Lastly, remember that open communication and collaboration with your funeral director throughout this process is key to ensuring that the funeral arrangements align with the desires of both the deceased and the family.


Notifying Third Parties


Upon the unfortunate event of a death in Western Australia, there is a broad range of individuals, organizations, and government agencies that must be promptly notified. The first point of contact should be the doctor or medical professional who oversaw the care of the deceased during their final illness. This medical professional will provide a vital document known as the medical certificate of cause of death, a requirement for the subsequent registration of the death.


Furthermore, the next of kin and all close family members, encompassing spouses, children, parents, siblings, and other closely related individuals, should be duly informed. Alongside the family, any existing funeral director should be contacted. Their expertise will prove invaluable in commencing funeral preparations, taking charge of numerous logistics such as the transportation of the deceased, orchestrating the funeral service, and managing the necessary paperwork.


Simultaneously, the death must be officially registered with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Western Australia. This critical procedure can be carried out at any registry office across the state and is fundamental to obtaining a death certificate, as well as resolving legal matters associated with the estate.


The executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate must also be notified. This person bears the responsibility of addressing the deceased's affairs, which entails settling debts, distributing assets, and overseeing legal matters. In a professional capacity, the deceased's employer or any professional associations should be alerted to the death to ensure proper handling of work-related matters, such as disbursal of benefits or final payments.


Furthermore, communication with the deceased person's insurance providers, including life and health insurers, among others, is essential. Supplying them with the necessary information will expedite the initiation of the claims process. Financial institutions, including banks and credit unions where the deceased held accounts such as checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, and safety deposit boxes, must also be apprised of the situation. Ask about their specific procedures for managing the deceased's accounts and the procedure for accessing funds.


In a government context, key agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Department of Human Services (Centrelink) should be notified. This ensures any benefits or entitlements are appropriately managed. Various utility and service providers like electricity, water, gas, telephone, internet, and cable companies should also be contacted to close or transfer the deceased's accounts.


Furthermore, any other organizations or institutions the deceased was affiliated with, such as clubs, memberships, or subscriptions, should be made aware of the death. These affiliations can then be cancelled or transferred as necessary.


It's crucial to remember that this list is not exhaustive and may need to be expanded based on the unique circumstances of the deceased person. It is always prudent to consult with the deceased person's lawyer or seek legal advice to make sure that all necessary notifications are made, and appropriate actions are taken. Finally, notifying family, close friends, and other relevant individuals about the death is of utmost importance, ensuring that funeral arrangements are communicated so everyone who wishes to attend can prepare accordingly.


Also, where applicable, the deceased person's attorney, executor, or trustee should be alerted. Their guidance on the legal process will be essential, especially in securing the deceased's assets. If there is no designated executor or trustee, the advice of a lawyer specializing in probate and estate administration would be invaluable.


Death Certificate


In order to acquire a death certificate in Western Australia, a particular set of steps must be followed. The first thing to do is to report the death to the proper authorities within 14 days of the person's passing. This entails getting in touch with the doctor or medical professional who took care of the deceased during their final illness. This doctor will then issue a medical certificate that states the cause of death.


Following this, the death must be registered. This is done by taking the medical certificate of cause of death to a registry office within Western Australia. The registry offices can be found in various locations all over the state, and the nearest office can be located via the Western Australia Department of Justice website.


Registering the death will require you to provide some specific information about the deceased. This will include their full name, date of birth, date of death, place of death, and their usual place of residence. It's important to ensure you have these details at hand when you go to register the death.


You will also need to bring certain supporting documents along with the medical certificate of cause of death. This might include identification documents of the deceased, such as their passport or driver's license, and potentially any relevant marriage or divorce certificates. Once at the registry office, the necessary paperwork must be completed to register the death. The registry staff will be there to guide you through this process and provide you with a death registration number.


After the death has been registered, the next step is to apply for a death certificate. Applications can typically be made online, by mail, or in person. For more information on how to apply and to understand the fees involved, you can visit the Western Australia Department of Justice website or directly get in touch with the registry office.


It's also recommended to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate as they might be needed for a variety of legal and administrative purposes, such as handling the deceased's estate or filing insurance claims.


It's crucial to remember that the process and requirements might vary slightly, so it's always a good idea to check the Western Australia Department of Justice website or directly contact the registry office to ensure you have the most current and accurate information for the process of organizing a death certificate in Western Australia.


Conclusion


Administering an estate after the death of a loved one is undoubtedly a difficult task, not just because of its complexity, but also due to the emotional toll it takes. The process involves an array of intricate and often unfamiliar tasks, such as notifying various parties, obtaining the death certificate, and settling the deceased's affairs, all within a specific timeframe and amidst a time of grief and loss. It's important to remember that this process is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's okay to take the time you need to cope and heal. Engage with supportive networks of family and friends, and don't hesitate to seek professional help, be it legal, financial, or emotional, when needed. Ensure that you are aware of all the necessary steps and deadlines, but also be kind to yourself and acknowledge the emotional burden of the situation. It's a significant responsibility, but with patience, perseverance, and the right support, it can be managed effectively and respectfully.




The above information should be considered a guide only and not legal advice.

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