When a person dies, the executor of the deceased's estate must make sure all of the deceased's taxes and debts are paid, and then distribute what is left to the appropriate beneficiaries. The executor has a "fiduciary duty" to act in a manner of good faith and impartiality in making sure the wishes of the deceased are carried out to whatever extent possible.

What Must the Executor Do to Fulfill This Duty?

The executor of an estate has many jobs in order fulfill her duty:

  • Tie up the day-to-day loose ends : notify financial institutions (e.g., banks, lenders, brokerages) and governmental institutions (e.g., Social Security Administration, Medicare and Medicaid) of the death, and make sure to terminate any credit cards and leases.
  • Use the funds from the estate to pay ongoing expenses : usually paying any property expenses having to do with property still held within the estate.
  • Pay-off debts and taxes : a final income tax return must be filed for the deceased and creditors must be notified if there are any probate proceedings.
  • Set-up bank account for money owed to the deceased : make sure to have an estate bank account that holds money that is collected for the deceased, such as any paychecks, stock dividends, etc.
  • Make arrangements for probate proceedings if necessary : check your state's laws to see how much the estate must be worth in order for probate to be required.
  • Determine who inherits what property : if there is a will, use that as a reference; if not, the administrator will refer to state law to see who is entitled to inheritance.
  • Distribute property whenever possible : even if probate is required for some property, other property might be distributed immediately.
  • Find and manage the deceased's assets during the probate process.
  • Supervise the distribution of property and other assets to the beneficiaries in the will.

Seeking Legal Help

You may want to consult an estate lawyer who has experience with estate administration. Your attorney can help you fulfill those duties, or you even have the option of assigning the attorney as the executor of the estate if you no longer wish to have that position.