What is an executor’s responsibility when someone dies?

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Q. What is the responsibility of the executor when someone dies? Who do they have to notify? The state? The county?
— Executor

A. Your question makes us wonder if you’ve lost someone close to you.

If so, we’re sorry for your loss.

The executor named in the will would bring the original will to the Office of the Surrogate in the county where the decedent resided in at the time of the decedent’s death, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

This action is taken to probate the document and obtain Letters Testamentary evidencing the appointment as executor, she said.

“If there is no will, the nearest next of kin can apply to the Surrogate to be appointed as administrator of the decedent’s estate,” she said. “An administrator‘s role is similar to that of the executor.”

Social Security is generally notified of the decedent’s death by the funeral home but if not, the executor should also notify Social Security as well as the Office of Veterans Affairs if the decedent was a veteran, she said.

You can contact Social Security at (800) 772-1213 or find your local office here.

If your spouse was a veteran, you should additionally contact the Office of Veterans Affairs, she said.

If the decedent was receiving Medicaid benefits, the executor should ascertain whether there is a Medicaid lien on the estate assets, she said.

There are tax returns to consider.

“The executor is responsible for filing the decedent’s final federal and state income tax returns for the year of death unless the decedent has a surviving spouse who may file a joint return for the year of death,” Romania said. “By filing the return, the executor will have notified the taxing authorities of the death of the decedent.”

Meanwhile, the executor must be gathering the assets of the decedent’s estate, she said.

Sometimes these assets are in other states which may require ancillary probate in such that state, meaning the local Surrogate where the property is located may need to be contacted and a tax return for that state may need to be filed, she said.

“The executor must also ascertain and pay any debts,” she said. “Finally, after all debts are paid, the executor will distribute the assets of the estate to the named beneficiaries.”

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This story was originally published on Sept. 11, 2023.

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