When you're an executor, everything starts with the will.

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The will is the document that names you to serve as executor (though you must be given your legal authority by the probate court), and it contains directions you must follow when you eventually distribute the deceased person's property. So for starters, you'll need to get your hands on the original document and file it with the local court (even if you don't think you'll need to conduct a probate court proceeding).

Then you'll need to spend some time reading the document--not always an easy task, since many wills are filled with "legalese." We'll tell you how to decipher the terms you're likely to come across, and what kinds of provisions could cause confusion or family disputes. Outside circumstances can have a big effect on a will, too--for example, if the will-maker got divorced after making the will, or had more children, the terms of the will may be affected.

And what if there's not a will? Don't worry. State law will step in, to see that the closest surviving family members inherit the deceased person's property. State law will also determine who serves as executor.

Serving as Executor? Nolo Can Help.

Find a local lawyer for advice or handle the estate yourself with nolo's award winning do-it-yourself legal books.

The Executor's Guide

The Executor's Guide

Settle an estate or trust with this all-in-one guide for executors. The Executor's Guide will help you make progress one step at a time through the unfamiliar land of legal procedures and terminology.

The Trustee's Legal Companion

The Trustee's Legal Companion

Learn the ins and outs of being a trustee with this guide for every trust administrator. The Trustee’s Legal Companion shows you exactly how to proceed within the terms of the trust and your state's law.

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