A will executor is someone who is named in a will document, or appointed by the court to be responsible for managing the distribution of a deceased person's estate. There can be a single executor, or one or more people can be charged with the role. An executor can be related to the deceased person, and they can be a friend or a lawyer, accountant, or other professional. 

The main requirement for being a will executor is that the person chosen as executor be at least 18 years old and have not been convicted of a felony. If you have been named the executor of someone's estate, you have been given a job involving great responsibility.

The main responsibilities of an executor can be broad; they may be tasked with taking care of everything from disposing of property instructed in the will to handling the deceased person’s debts and tax payments.

What Does a Will Executor Do?

Generally speaking, an executor's duties are mostly administrative. They will begin at the time of the person’s death and continue until the estate's assets have been distributed and taxes and bills have been paid. Duties of an executor may include, but are not limited to:

  • Paying valid creditors (like a bank);
  • Paying taxes;
  • Notifying Social Security and other agencies and companies of the death;
  • Canceling credit cards, magazine subscriptions, etc.;
  • Distributing property assets according to the will; and
  • Making court appearances.

Can an Executor Refuse to Serve or Perform their Duties?

The person named in the will to be the executor of estate does have the choice to decline the responsibilities to serve as an executor. Also, if a person has already accepted the role as executor of estate, they can still resign at any time. 

In many cases, a will has a person named as an alternative to serve as an executor. If the will doesn’t name an alternative person to serve as executor, then the court will appoint a replacement executor.

What are the Main Steps in Being an Executor?

For the executor, settling a person’s estate begins with probating their will. As executor you will need to:

  • Find the person’s original will (this is often kept with an attorney);
  • Locate the deceased person's assets and keep them safe;
  • Determine whether the will is the deceased’s last (most recent) will;
  • Set up a separate bank account to separate estate funds from their personal funds;
  • Continue paying the necessary bills and debt payments on time;
  • File the will document with the proper probate court; 
  • Begin distributing the deceased person’s property according to the will instructions; and
  • Consider hiring an estate lawyer (this may be done earlier in the process).

Who Determines Whether the Will is Valid?

The probate court is generally responsible for determining the legal validity of the deceased person’s will. The validity of a will depends on which state law or laws the will is being challenged under. 

Will requirements may vary by state law. However, under most state laws, the four basic requirements to the formation of the will are:

  1. The will must be drafted by the testator with the proper testamentary intent;
  2. The testator must have had capacity when drafting the will (i.e., the ability to understand that the document they are signing is a will and what a will does);
  3. The will must have been executed without any fraud, duress, undue influence, or mistake; and
  4. The will must have been duly executed with proper witnesses present.

If someone wishes to challenge the will’s validity, they must file a challenge with the probate court. This can open up various other legal issues as well, depending on the nature of the will contest.   

What Happens Once the Will is Determined to be Valid?

Once the court declares that the will is valid, then the executor can begin paying taxes and other claims against the estate. At this point, you can also begin distributing property assets to the named beneficiaries.

When these steps have been completed, you must provide the probate court with evidence that the taxes and wills have been paid and the assets distributed. Only when the probate court recognizes that these duties and tasks have been fulfilled will the estate be considered settled.

Is There Anything Else I Will Be Required to Do as Executor?

There may be many other duties involved in being an executor. Here is a checklist to ensure that you have completed or been made aware of such duties:

  • Locate the will;
  • Obtain an estate lawyer;
  • Apply to appear before the relevant probate court;
  • Notify the beneficiaries of the person’s will;
  • Arrange for a publication of notice to creditors;
  • Send death notices to the appropriate parties; 
  • Inventory assets and have them appraised for their value;
  • Collect any debts owed to the estate;
  • Check for unpaid salary and any insurance benefits;
  • File for Social Security, life insurance, and other benefits;
  • File tax returns;
  • Pay off any claims/debts against the estate;
  • Distribute assets to the valid beneficiaries; and
  • File papers to finalize the estate.

Do Will Executors Get Paid for their Services?

An executor is typically not entitled to proceeds from the sale of property of the estate. The executor may sometimes be entitled to a fee of compensation for administering the duties of the will. The fee may be specified in the will or determined by state laws. 

The amount an executor gets paid is usually set by the state; the probate court within the state will determine what the reasonable amount of compensation will be to serve as an executor. Most executors decline compensation, as they are usually close family members and want to perform their duties out of respect for the deceased.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer if I’ve been Named as an Executor?

Being an executor of even a simple estate can be a complicated role with many different steps and tasks to fulfill. Consulting an experienced wills, trusts, and estates lawyer can help make your job simpler and ensure that the job is done right. This will also help to avoid any legal disputes over the estate property.