Stephen Cockriel Sept. 3, 2015

An executor is in charge of handling a decedent's estate. The first steps of this process involve gathering the assets and determining their value. In some cases, the executor will need to have an expert appraise assets. This serves multiple purposes, as it is necessary to properly calculate the estate taxes, and it ensures that the executor can distribute the assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will.

Once the executor determines the total value of all assets, he or she must pay all debts against the estate, including any income and estate taxes. This process could sometimes include liquidating assets to ensure that the estate has enough funds to cover all of the expenses. An attorney and accountant could help with this process to protect the executor from liability for mismanaging the assets. The executor should file all taxes within nine months of the decedent's death, but it can take much longer to finalize the estate.

The final step is identifying all of the beneficiaries and distributing the assets properly. This may also require liquidating assets in order to distribute them more evenly. For all of these services, the executor receives a commission from the estate depending on the amount of work involved. This also comes out before distributing the assets.

During the estate planning process, an attorney can assist with preparing all of the necessary paperwork to design the process around the person's wishes. These documents can appoint a trusted person or entity as the estate's executor and give explicit instructions on how to handle the estate assets. Every case is unique, so the same plans that work for one person may not be right for another. The attorney can discuss exactly what options may work for the person's specific situation and help to design a plan that will work.