One of the most difficult real estate related challenges for an individual is acting as executor for a deceased person who owned and occupied residential property. Notwithstanding the emotional burden created by the loss of a loved one, there are also the new responsibilities of settling debts, liquefying assets and overseeing distribution of proceeds to the beneficiaries of the estate. There is also the intangible and sometimes trying component of striving to resolve this with dignity and peacefulness for the family and close friends.

This is the first in a two part series designed to provide a practical checklist of immediate things that an executor needs to do when stepping in to both manage and sell a dwelling. In part one, we will review a detailed list of actions to be taken early on in the process to secure the property and in part two we will examine financial considerations to look at early on in the process.

The law requires the executor to “secure” assets and this makes it imperative to safeguard both the structure and its contents. An executor is not empowered to sign any checks or cancel any services until officially appointed by the surrogate court and this can take a few weeks, but there are some things that can and really should be done as soon as you feel able.

First off, verify that all necessary utilities are in service and that there are no pending shut off notifications in place. This would include gas, electric and water. Shut off notices are clearly stamped as such on the outside of the envelope. Verify that snow plowing and lawn maintenance is in place. A quick review of a check book may answers these questions quickly. If there is a problem with any of this, immediately speak to your estate attorney and follow the advice given. Next, are there timers in place to turn lights on and off so that the dwelling looks occupied? Consider using at least two of them, perhaps one in the general living area or kitchen and one in a bedroom set to different logical times.

Does the property have a hard-wired security system? If so, do you know the access code in order to operate it as well as the password required in case it is set off by accident? It’s ideal if you can use it, but if you don’t know the password, don’t use it or you might end up having to do some explaining to local police and also bring unwanted attention to the property. A few security system stickers and/or a little sign in the flower bed indicating that a system is in place acts as strong deterrents for any burglars who might be reading the obituaries. Even if there is no system in place perhaps you could obtain some stickers or a security system sign to place in the landscaping from a friend.

A visual record of both the interior and the exterior is always a good idea whether you are buying, selling or renting real property. In this instance, where there is likely to be personal property involved, creating such a reference, in my opinion, is imperative. The easiest and most thorough way to accomplish this is by simply taking one photo in each direction from the corner of the room to get a wide angle and methodically moving through all rooms one at a time.

Lastly, making provisions to collect or forward mail and newspapers is an early priority unless you plan on visiting the property daily. The US Postal Service will forward mail for up to one year.

Taking just a few actions early on will satisfy your legal responsibility to secure the real estate asset. You can take satisfaction in a job well done as you prepare for the next stage of the process that I will address in Part 2 of this series that will be published here soon.

Reprinted with permission from the Buffalo News Home Finder