What Does an Executor Do?
The answer to this question is very much based on the nature of the estate to be settled. It can be relatively simple or extremely difficult and require legal assistance depending on factors of how well the estate has been planned and on the family and business dynamics associated with the estate.
In part what an executor does is also based on the familiarity of the executor with the deceased’s estate. Executors that are not at all familiar with an estate can have an enormously time consuming and troublesome experience in trying to fulfill their duties. In these cases, executors may ask for legal assistance, co-executors or completely decline the appointment as an executor all together. Before accepting an appointment as an executor, one should consider their abilities and willingness to be able to follow through with the fiduciary duties and responsibilities of settling the estate. Working with an attorney can help in these situations.
Here are a few typical responsibilities and activities to be performed by an executor of an estate. This should give you a good picture of what’s involved:
1. The executor will handle day-to-day details of the estate. This may include maintaing property, terminating leases and credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies of the death. The executor may need to pay utility bills, mortgage payments, insurance premiums etc., and other expenses of the estate with estate funds. It’s like running someone else’s household for a period of time.
2. If the deceased person left a will, the executor will read it to determine how assets are distributed. Basically the executor will figure out who inherits property and assets of the deceased. If there's no will, or if the will is to be contested, you will want to consult an attorney.
3. In many cases executors will need to provide proof of the validity of the will to the court by filing documents with the county or state.
4. Executors are responsible for identifying and locating all the assets of the estate and will manage them until they can be properly distributed to those that will inherit them. They may need to create a comprehensive list of assets for probate court. (This is where being familiar with an estate as an executor will be particularly helpful)
5. With probate, executors will have several responsibilities around that process, including, sending out formal written notices about probate proceedings to heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors.
6. Determining whether to sell real estate or securities owned by the deceased person is another key responsibility of the executor. We recommend getting advice from an attorney before you sell anything.
7. Executors must determine whether or not probate court proceedings are needed. Again consult an attorney if you are not certain about this. If the deceased person's estate is worth less than a certain amount it will probably go through a streamlined probate process.
8. Executors will typically set up an estate bank account. This account will be used for money that is owed to the deceased person.
9. Pay debts and pay taxes - If you are uncertain about what debts and taxes to pay, consulting an attorney will again be worth while.
10. Finally, property/assets will pass to the people or organizations named in a Will or be transferred to those entitled to inherit it under state law. A primary duty of an executor is to oversee the distribution of the deceased person's property.
These are just a few of the typical responsibilities for an executor of an estate. As you can imagine it can be time consuming and laborious to coordinate all the details and it can be particularly burdensome if you are not aware of the details of the estate ahead of time. Probate processes can make it even harder. Because being an executor is challenging, it’s good to know that executors do not need to “go it alone.” That’s why we encourage executors to consult an attorney with any questions having to do with settling an estate. It’s likely that an attorney can help.