Conventional wisdom advises people who are writing a will to let the person they want as their executor know about the honor — and make sure that they’re up to the job. But a lot of people still just assume that their oldest child, best friend or brother will “naturally” expect to be put in charge of everything when they’re gone, so they skip that conversation.

When you’re dealing with a loved one’s death, it can be an unpleasant shock to find out that you’re now in charge of their estate. Since everyone’s looking at you for guidance, you need to take a few definitive steps right away:

  1. Make funeral arrangements. If there’s a will, there may also be directions regarding the deceased’s funeral plans. Even if other family members take charge of most of the arrangements, the funeral home may need your guarantee that the estate will pay the bill.
  2. Secure the deceased’s estate. Clean out the fridge, close up the house, make sure the pets are taken to their new home and lock the car in the garage. Nothing should be distributed to the heirs, and the house shouldn’t be left open until after you’ve had time to inventory the estate and take other legal steps.
  3. Make the appropriate notifications. You’ll need copies of the death certificate to do this, but you should let Social Security, the deceased’s insurance company, credit cards and bank know about their passing. Make sure all automatic billing is stopped.

Finally, find some allies. The real work of handling an estate starts after all this is done. You’ll need to set up an account, file tax returns and settle the deceased’s debts before you begin distributing any inheritances. That’s a lot of work for one person. An attorney can provide a great deal of guidance.