Managing Assets

An asset is anything in the estate that has value, whether a house, checking account, gold watch, or furniture. One of your duties as executor is to protect and maintain the estate's assets (see Fiduciary Duty). Ultimately, you will either need to sell some or all of these assets, and distribute the rest directly to the heirs

General Plan

Before launching into asset sales or distributions, it's best to come up with an overall plan for which assets you intend to sell, and which assets you intend to distribute directly to heirs. If it's helpful, you can mark your high-level intentions (sell or distribute) in the Plan column of the Assets table, and then filter the assets by plan type to see how much cash you intend to generate, and the number of assets yet to be planned.

Specific Bequests

Please keep in mind that wills sometimes specify that certain assets are to be distributed to certain heirs. You can mark these bequests by clicking the Distributed column for the given asset in the Assets tab and filling out the Distribution dialog that appears (see Manage Distributions). However, not all such bequests can be honored: sometimes the asset is no longer part of the estate; sometimes the bequest conflicts with local law (e.g., community property); sometimes the asset must be sold (as a last resort) in order to pay estate debts.

Named Beneficiaries

Certain items are not passed through a will, such as life insurance, property held in joint tenancy or community property with the right of survivorship, funds in an IRA or 401K for which a beneficiary was named, stocks held in a transfer-on-death account, and so forth. You can choose to list these items as assets to help you keep things organized, but remember to create a Distribution for each with the "Reason" identified as "Beneficiary".

Asset Sales

As the executor, you may decide to sell an asset for a variety of reasons: you may want to raise cash in order to pay off debts, you may think the estate would achieve better financial performance with the funds from that asset invested elsewhere, or you may just want to make things easier when it comes time to partition the estate (e.g., it's easier to give someone 20% of a cash account than it is to give one person a car, another a diamond necklace, and somehow have it all work out to be equitable).

A home is often the most valuable asset in an estate, and this Homelight article on selling a decedent's house has some useful advice about the overall process.

It's common to hold an estate sale to liquidate a variety of household and other items that heirs do not want. There are 3 main approaches to estate sales:

  • Garage Sale: If there are only a limited number of inexpensive items to sell, you may try to do this yourself as a kind of super "garage" sale (see PostMyGarageSale.com, for example).
  • Professional Auction: For larger estates, you can hire a professional auctioneer to run an auction at your location, or, if the estate isn't overly large, it may be better to have the auctioneer hold a larger auction at their site with multiple sources of assets, attracting even more potential buyers. You can find auctioneers at the National Auctioneers Association.
  • Estate Liquidator: The easiest approach is to hire an estate liquidator to handle the whole thing, but of course, you will pay for that ease. The 3 main sources of estate liquidators are EstateSales.org, EstateSales.net, and The American Society of Estate Liquidators.  In addition, MaxSold is North America’s largest individual liquidator, with many locations and over 500 employees.

It's also common to sell individual assets through other channels, for example taking jewelry to a jewelry store, selling precious metals through a broker, or selling a car to a used car dealer.

When using a professional seller, it's prudent to do a little research, talk to more than one service, check references, and when dealing with estate sales, have the service visit the estate so everyone has a common understanding as to what is being sold before finalizing any deal. Be sure you carefully read and understand any contract (and insist on one when dealing with an estate sale).

Note that if the estate is going through probate, you may first need permission from the court before selling certain types of assets, or in some cases, any assets at all. See Sell Asset for instructions on recording an asset sale within EstateExec.

Discount $$:  EstateExec users can access discounts on third-party sale services (see Task: Conduct estate sale).

Asset Disposal

Some assets are inherently worthless: hard-used furniture, frayed clothing, old newspapers, piles of junk, etc. If you cannot sell an item, and no heir wants it, you may have to pay someone to dispose of it (particularly when cleaning out a residence).

Be careful about giving things away to charities. Unless the will specifically empowers you to do so, you do not have the right to give away items of value, and charities won't generally accept things that are worthless.

Discount $$:  EstateExec users can access discounts on third-party removal services (see Task: Dispose of unwanted assets).

If the will provides for charitable donations, you should handle them as normal asset distributions, to an admittedly special type of "heir".

If the will does not empower you to make charitable donations, and the estate contains items of value that no heir wants, one way to work around this donation restriction is to officially distribute the items as dictated by the will or the court, on paper, and then with the receiving heirs' permission, arrange to donate the items to charity ... in the heirs' names (from a legal and tax perspective, those donations will come from the heirs, not the estate).

Asset Distributions

If you don't sell or otherwise dispose of an asset, ultimately you will need to distribute it to an heir (or multiple heirs). See Making Distributions.

Note that an authorized donation to a charity is just another type of distribution, in which the charity is the "heir".

When using EstateExec, any defined distributions for a given asset appear in the asset's Distributions column in the Assets tab. If the distribution is defined, but not Done, the value will be shown in gray text, turning to black once all such distributions for the asset have been marked Done.

Discount $$:  EstateExec users can access significant discounts on third-party shipping services (see Task: Make all distributions).

Dealing with Firearms

Dealing with firearms can be a bit complex, and depends on federal, state, and local regulation, but in general an executor can distribute a typical firearm to any close relative of the decedent, as long as the recipient is not legally prohibited from possessing it.

  • NFA Firearms: Certain weapons are regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA), including fully automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and silencers. These weapons and accessories must be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and any distributions or sales must be done according to ATF rules.
  • Gun Registration: A few jurisdictions (such as NY and WDC) require registration for more common types of weapons, although an executor usually has a short period in which to possess and then distribute a firearm without registering the gun himself or herself (in NY, this is 15 days). You should check local rules.
  • Prohibited Persons: Generally speaking, you cannot give a weapon to a person who is legally prohibited from possessing it, such as someone has been sentenced to more than a year in jail, dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, or judged mentally defective (see ATF Prohibitions for a more complete federal list, and note that some states impose additional restrictions, such as restrictions for minors). However, some states, such as NJ (see N.J.S. 2C:58-3j do allow prohibited heirs to take possession of a gun for up to 180 days so they can lawfully sell or otherwise dispose of it.
  • Heir Responsibilities: Note that some states require the recipient of a firearm to obtain and possess a firearm license, to register the firearm, and/or to take a gun safety course.
  • Interstate Transfer: An heir can legally transport firearms across state lines subject to certain restrictions, such as keeping the weapon unloaded and in a locked container, out of easy reach of anyone in the vehicle, and being legally able to possess the weapon in the starting and final jurisdictions (see 18 U.S. Code § 926A). If flying, contact the airline for their procedures.
  • Sales: If selling a gun, a number of states require that private individuals perform a background check on a prospective buyer (usually through an FFL dealer), including CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OR, PR, RI, VA, and VT. In fact CA, DE, DC, and OR require the sale itself to be done via an FFL dealer.
  • FFL Dealers: Perhaps the legally safest way to transfer or sell a firearm is via a gun dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL), who can help you fill out any required forms, hold the gun for you, perform any background checks, and then release the gun into the possession of the recipient when everything is complete (find a local FFL dealer).

See also Gun Laws by State.

In terms of overall asset management, see also Taking Inventory and Determining Value, and see EstateExec Reference: Manage Assets for instructions on using EstateExec to help organize, plan, and ultimately settle all estate assets.

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