Settling an Estate

Most of us, at one time or another, must take on the responsibility of wrapping up the affairs of a loved one who has died. The essence of the job is to carry out the deceased person's wishes—to collect the person's assets, pay debts and taxes, and then distribute what's left to the people or institutions the person wanted to inherit it. That's how an estate is "settled."

Because an executor is in charge of someone else's money, the law imposes a high ethical standard. An executor (also called "personal representative") must be completely honest and always act in the best interests of the estate. You must also deal with the people who inherit under the terms of a will or, if there isn't a will, under state law. And if necessary, you must shepherd the estate through probate court proceedings, probably with the help of a lawyer and other experts. If you need expert advice, you can hire professionals (such as lawyers and accountants), and pay them from estate assets.

Make sure you also check out our sections on Probate  and Property & Debts of the Estate.

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