The entirety of a person’s belongings, property, and assets are collectively referred to as their “estate.” When a person passes away, they will need someone to manage and distribute all of their property, as well as to ensure that their debts or other financial matters are settled. The person whom they appoint to perform these tasks is called an executor.
More specifically, the executor of an estate is the person named in a decedent’s (i.e., a person who has died) will or other relevant document, who is responsible for overseeing the decedent’s assets after death.
The term is frequently used in matters concerning wills, trusts, and probate. This person is also sometimes referred to as a “personal representative” or an “administrator.”
Although the law does not require that the executor of an estate must be a legal or financial expert, they are generally required to fulfill many legal and financial duties. These include having a “fiduciary duty” to the decedent’s estate.
If a person did not name an executor in their will, or if they passed away without a will, then the court will normally appoint someone to act as the executor. Additionally, a person can also apply to become the executor in certain instances.
The purpose of appointing an executor is to ensure that the intentions of a decedent are properly carried out. Essentially, this means that the executor will be responsible for representing the interests of an estate. Such interests can include managing the estate’s assets, contacting any beneficiaries named in the will, and in some cases, even defending the estate in a lawsuit.
An executor may also have a duty to refrain from certain types of actions or conduct, such as using the deceased person’s assets for their own personal gain or profit; making changes to a decedent’s will; or withholding inheritance from any rightful beneficiaries.
Although the executor of an estate is tasked with many responsibilities, their primary duties include ensuring that all of the decedent’s debts and taxes are paid off, and that any remaining assets get distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries.
Other duties that the executor might be required to perform include:
- Filing a decedent’s will in the probate court;
- Notifying family, friends, financial institutions (e.g., banks), governmental institutions (e.g., Medicaid, post office), and even media outlets (e.g., newspapers), of a person’s death;
- Terminating credit cards, leases, subscriptions, and so forth;
- Creating a bank account for any money owed to the decedent, such as paychecks, stock dividends, etc.;
- Filing and paying final income taxes of the decedent; and
- Ensuring that necessary payments continue (e.g., insurance, mortgage, other recurring bills).
Additionally, if a will goes to probate (i.e., process where court determines whether the will is valid or not), an executor will most likely be responsible for additional duties. These can include hiring a probate attorney to represent the estate, contacting any other relevant parties, and managing certain tasks related to the probate process.
The amount of responsibility that the executor of an estate takes on may sometimes feel as if they have acquired a second full time job, but eventually their hard work can pay off.
In general, the person who is appointed as the executor of an estate has a major incentive to perform their duties because they are typically the person who has the most to gain from the deceased person’s will or estate plan.
While most executors perform their duties out of respect for a decedent and are not generally compensated for doing so, the executor does have a right to be paid for performing their duties.
Normally, a decedent will provide the amount of payment or the portion of the estate in their will, but if they have failed to do so, then state law will decide what the executor may receive.
Whether or not the executor has a right to compensation will depend on the laws of a state. Each state has specific rules regarding payment of executors that are often based on particular facts, such as the value of the estate and what the probate court determines as reasonable value of the executor’s time and services.
An executor usually cannot, however, collect their share of the estate until they have met all of their responsibilities and duties as the executor.
Being appointed as the executor of an estate can feel overwhelming. There are many requirements for duties and responsibilities that must be fulfilled, during a time when you and your family may be dealing with the emotional impact of losing a loved one.
If you have been named as the executor of an estate and have any questions or concerns about the role, you should strongly consider contacting an estate lawyer immediately. Alternatively, you can also hire a lawyer if you need help appointing an executor for your estate.
An experienced estate lawyer will be able to efficiently guide you through the experience, as well as make sure that all of your legal requirements and duties as an estate executor have been met.
Finally, a lawyer can also provide legal representation if you need to appear in court for some reason, such as for a probate proceeding or if a lawsuit is brought against the estate.