You have the keys, so now what? A step-by-step real estate guide for executors

If you have been nominated as the executor of an estate that includes real estate or perhaps you find yourself in a place where you will be exercising a power of attorney for another person, there are some initial steps that are important to know when it comes to residential real estate.

It’s a good idea to change locks and install automatic light timers. A phone call to the local police precinct to let them know the house is now vacant is a good preemptive measure as well as considering an alarm system if there is personal property of considerable value located in the property. Completely photograph the interior as soon as possible to document its contents with close up shots of smaller items such as jewelry and heirlooms. In cold weather geography like Buffalo, NY, it is often wise to professionally “winterize” the property. This involves getting the plumbing completely drained, including the hot water tank as well as placing antifreeze in the commodes to prevent burst pipes in case of a problem with the heating system.

A good second level of effort is to locate any leases, property tax bills, deeds that have conveyed real property, tax bills, the title search for as well as any surveys that may be available. Find up-to-date documents about the house’s mortgage and tax bills, and ensure that they are in good standing. If taxes are in arrears, call the town assessor’s office and let them know that you have stepped in to help and that the taxes will be brought current when you have the money and authority to do so. Locate the insurance policy for the property and discuss its terms with the attorney you are working with before taking any additional steps.

It makes sense to keep receipts for everything you do as you at times you don’t have full authority with respect to an estate until your nomination is approved by the surrogate court. All expenses related to the property also need to be identified in order to estimate the cash needs of the estate over the time period that it will be held, emptied and sold. Making a simple list and then projecting for one year’s time is a conservative enough approach if events proceed in a timely manner.

You’ve taken on a significant role by becoming executor or power of attorney and it will move along in with a lower level of stress and higher efficiency if you take it in smaller pieces with an eye on priority items.

This article originally appeared in The Buffalo News Homefinder and is reprinted with permission.

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