Part of an estate plan is naming an executor to manage and distribute your assets after you pass away. Not only is it an important responsibility, it's also a lot of work! So much so that most states set rules so that executors can be paid a certain percentage of the estate.
The first thing an executor will do is take the decedent's Will to Surrogate's Court in order to obtain Letters Testamentary. This document permits an executor to officially begin his role in managing and closing the decedent's estate.
The executor will take the Letters Testamentary and copies of the decedent's death certificate and contact administrators for the decedent's various assets including life insurance policies, IRA's, 401Ks, bank accounts, etc. They will also be responsible for contacting all the decedent's creditors including mortgage companies, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc. Lastly, s/he must contact all potential heirs. Hopefully the decedent will leave a list of all of his accounts so the executor will know exactly where to go. However, if the decedent doesn't leave a list, the executor may need to conduct a thorough search through the decedent's documents and emails to find any miscellaneous accounts.
If the decedent has a Trust then the executor would not have to search and gather the decedent's assets. If the Trust is properly funded, the decedent's assets will all be safely held within the Trust and be accessible to the next named Trustee almost immediately.
The executor will also set up a separate estate account to hold all of the monies gathered during this process. S/he will create an inventory of all of the assets and make some decisions about how to best manage those assets before distribution. This may include buying/selling property, collecting rents or other debts owed, liquidating assets, etc. This may require hiring an accountant, financial adviser or other professional.
Before distributing any assets to any beneficiaries, the executor should ensure that all taxes and debts owed are paid or set aside. S/he may be liable if the estate is mismanaged and assets are distributed to beneficiaries before all debts are paid.
Finally the executor will administer distribution of the decedent's assets to beneficiaries.
When choosing an executor it's important to keep in mind all of his duties and responsibilities. Consider whether the potential executor is administratively inclined, has a patient and calm demeanor, is able to communicate clearly and can manage competing interests.