Serving as an executor, or personal representative, of a deceased family member or friend is a solemn undertaking.

The decedent no doubt felt that you were trustworthy and capable of carrying out his or her wishes. However, now that the time has come to act, do you know what lies ahead?

Understanding the basics

Your job as executor involves paying final debts, filing final tax returns and ultimately protecting the assets of the deceased until the probate process concludes and you can distribute the remaining assets to beneficiaries per the will’s instructions.

Dealing with beneficiaries

Remember that the work you do as a personal representative is ultimately for the benefit of the heirs. They will want to have progress reports, so resolve to keep in touch and advise them of where things stand at certain points. Do not let the beneficiaries rush you, but understand that they are going to be anxious for asset distribution to take place. You cannot settle an estate quickly; the probate process will likely take months. Follow the rules of the probate court, starting with the initial filing of the will. You will need to handle a good deal of paperwork, so it helps to remain as organized as possible.

Seeking help

You may have a good business sense, but chances are that the deceased chose you as executor because you also have common sense and are not shy about asking for help. As the deceased’s personal representative, you are legally responsible for the administration of an estate. This is an important job, but you are not expected to handle it without assistance from professionals. You may need guidance from an accountant or perhaps a business appraiser. You will also want the help of an estate planning attorney who can answer your questions, help you manage the probate process and ensure that there will be no legal missteps as you discharge your duties as executor.