Coping with loss

Estate Planning

Moving Forward: What To Do After A Death

Sep-28 2022

Eventually, the time comes when a loved one passes away, and the surviving family and friends come together to celebrate the loved one’s life, and to grieve the loss of that person. In addition to handling the swirl of emotions, there are specific steps that must be taken, from planning the funeral to submitting the will to the court and ensuring that the loved one’s heirs receive their intended inheritances.

If your loved one worked with GoodTrust in advance, he or she will have established designated contacts that will gain access to important materials, potentially including funeral guidance, instructions for locating a signed will, lists of assets, and more. So be sure to check!

If, like many people, your loved one didn’t really prepare much in advance, you may want to head over to EstateExec, which provides step-by-step guidance for an estate executor.

Estate Executor

An estate executor is the person legally responsible for handling a deceased person’s estate, collecting and managing assets, paying taxes due, resolving debts, and eventually distributing remaining assets to the rightful heirs. In some states, the executor is officially called a personal representative, or if there was no will, an estate administrator.

In any case, the person designated to fulfill this role may be named in the will, but if not, the court will appoint one (and you can petition to be the executor if there is not someone more closely related who wants the role). Be cautioned that the job can entail A LOT of work (500+ hours on average) … but someone has to do it.

The Small Estate Shortcut

If the estate is “small”, you can often skip the court process (or most of it, anyway) … and there are big loopholes in the definition of “small”, so the estate can be worth millions of dollars and still be considered small. Check out small estate settlement processes for state-specific rules, forms, and instructions.


Otherwise, the estate will have to go through probate, which is the court-supervised process of estate settlement. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer for this process in most states, but hiring one can be helpful. Hiring a lawyer for probate is a bit like hiring an accountant to do your income taxes, however: you don’t hire the professional and walk away … you still have a lot of work to do! That may involve cleaning out the residence and sorting through various possessions, holding an estate sale, maintaining the property, notifying various acquaintances and organizations, and so forth.

Estate Organization

In any case, you’ll want to organize the estate into assets, liabilities (i.e., debts), and heirs, then track all the various transactions such estate expenses, estate income, account consolidations, asset sales, and eventually, distributions. It can be easy to get a little lost in all this, and so it’s important from the beginning to have a clear, logical way to track everything.

Many people start with Excel spreadsheets, and get pretty far along, before they realize they haven’t been tracking cost basis (and don’t understand which assets get an automatic “step-up”), or that they have no idea how to list and summarize all the activity into a Final Estate Accounting Report, so you might want to do a little homework up front and start from the beginning with a simple software framework that can handle these and other requirements for you.

Estate Inventory & Resolution

The processing of discovering and taking possession of all the estate’s assets is called “marshaling” the assets. It can sometimes be a little tricky to find these assets, or even just to take legal possession of them. Once you have the assets, you will need to determine their value, sometimes getting an official appraisal … and protect them.

An executor must also resolve an estate’s debts. Often this includes publishing a Notice of Death to officially notify creditors that they need to contact you within a certain time limit, or their debts will become barred. These regulations vary by state.

Once you have marshaled the assets, resolved all debts, and paid any taxes due, you can make distributions to the heirs. This process can be finalized as quickly as 6 months, but realistically it takes 16 months on average, and some situations can drag on for years.

Social Media

As a relatively new thing, social media accounts aren’t usually covered by the normal estate settlement process. That being said, an executor may want to consider closing down or memorializing significant account, and GoodTrust offers a digital executor service that can help you with that.

Executor Compensation

Because serving as an executor is so much work, every state has rules and practices governing compensation for estate executors. Such compensation may be specified in the will, but often is not, and then falls to state procedures. It’s not required for the executor to take a fee, and in certain cases it can be tax-advantageous not to, but the role requires significant effort, and it may be important to communicate this to the other heirs in advance in order to avoid misunderstandings and misgivings.

Family Conflict

In fact, family conflict is not uncommon during the estate settlement process, so it behooves an executor to keep everyone apprised of the progress through that process. In the absence of such information, heirs can sometimes become worried or even suspicious, and the ultimate goal is instead to celebrate the loved one’s life, and to appreciate and enjoy whatever gifts he or she had to pass on to his or her chosen heir.


Using GoodTrust to establish a will in advance, and putting important information in a Digital Vault, can be important in ensuring that your legacy will proceed as you desire. When the day eventually comes, someone will have to serve as your estate executor, and you can ease the burden of that role by using an estate settlement tool such as EstateExec.

The most important thing to remember is to live a life worth living, and for the remaining family and friends to appreciate and honor that life, keeping alive their fond memories for all time.

This article was provided by EstateExec, which helps anyone navigate what it means to be the executor of someone's estate through a comprehensive and step-by-step process.