The Other Side of the Will - Top 10 Duties of an Executor
Michelle Fabio, Esq. - Dec 2012
Being chosen as an executor can be both an honor and an obligation depending on
the estate and the complexity of issues that arise. So a potential executor
should make sure he or she knows what he or she is getting into before
accepting the responsibility.
The job of executor is defined as the person
named to distribute a deceased personís property that passes under his or her
will, and arranges for the payment of debts and expenses. These duties apply
even if a person dies without a will. In these cases, the court appoints a
person called the administrator of the estate.
All of the information below
applies to executors no matter how he or she got the job. We will refer to this
person as the executor throughout the course of the article.
What follows are
the top 10 duties and responsibilities of an executor.
Duties and Responsibilities of an Executor
An executor is legally responsible for sorting out the finances of the person
who died, generally making sure debts and taxes are paid and what remains is
properly distributed to the heirs.
State law varies on the requirements of who can serve as executors, but
generally, executors tend to come from the close ranks of a familyóspouses,
children, parents and siblings. Although state laws provide for the payment of
executors, since so many executors are close family members, they often donít
ask to be compensated. In addition to carrying out duties in a diligent,
impartial and honest manner, an executor may also be required to perform any or
all of the following activities, among others:
Get a copy of the will and file it with the local probate court
The executor is in charge of locating, reading and understanding the
willóusually even if probate isnít necessary, the will still must be filed with
the probate court. At this step, the executor also determines who inherits the
Notify banks, credit card companies and government agencies of the
The Social Security Administration along with the decedentís bank and credit
card companies are just some examples of who should be notified of the death.
Set up a bank account for incoming funds and pay any ongoing bills
If the decedent is owed money such as incoming paychecks, this account can hold
them. An executor should be on the lookout for mortgages, utilities and similar
bills that still need to be paid throughout the probate process.
File an inventory of the estateís assets with the court
In many states, the court requires the executor to submit a detailed inventory
of the assets in probate estate.
Decide what kind of probate is necessary
Because inheritance laws may facilitate the passing of certain properties
without probate (such as property held jointly by a husband and wife), probate
isnít always necessary. Additionally, the value of the estate may allow it to
pass through an expedited process.
Maintain property until it can be distributed or sold
This includes keeping up a house until it is distributed to heirs or soldóeven
deciding whether property needs to be sold at all. Also, an executor must be
sure to find all personal property in the estate and protect it until
distribution. If the decedent had a safety deposit box, the executor should
locate it and keep it safe.
Pay the estateís debts and taxes
State law dictates the procedure for notifying creditors, and the estate must
also file final income tax returns from the first of the current year until the
date of the decedentís death. If the estate is large enough, there may be state
and/or federal estate taxes to pay as well.
Distribution occurs according to the wishes expressed in the will. If there is
no will, state intestacy laws apply.
Dispose of other property
If there is any property left after paying off the estateís debts and
distribution to heirs, the executor is responsible for disposing of it.
Represent the estate in court
The executor may be required to appear in court on behalf of the estate.
Since estates vary greatly in size and complexity, an executor's job may be easy
or challenging to carry outóand responsibilities may very well go beyond the 10
basic items in this list. But while an executor can decline the position or
resign at any point in the process, sometimes all that is needed is some legal
advice. Consulting with an attorney is generally to make sure that the executor
properly complies with his or her duties.
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