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What Is an Executor of an Estate?

An executor of an estate is a person responsible for the distribution of assets and property upon a person’s death. They are usually named in the will of the deceased person (the testator). Close relatives and friends of the testator are commonly named as executors. This is because they can be trusted and often know the testator’s wishes and intents regarding the property. 
 
If no executor is named, sometimes the probate court will appoint one for the estate. The estate can be managed by one or more executors if they are specifically named in the will. Executor liability includes any violations of the testator’s requests as provided in their will. 

What Are Some Common Duties of Executors?

Duties of the executor typically include:
 
  • Paying off old debts and taxes for the deceased person
  • Setting up a separate bank account for money owed to the deceased person
  • Identifying and distributing the testator’s real and personal property
  • Making various arrangements such as funeral proceedings, organ donations, and probate hearings
  • Locating and managing any other assets that the testator had

What If the Executor Violates Their Duties?

Most will/estate disputes revolve around the management of the estate’s finances and property interests. For example, the executor often has an implied duty to manage estate funds prudently. This may include investing them in the proper manner. If the executor fails to do so, or takes the funds for personal use, it could result in serious consequences.
 
Other violations of will provisions can occur, especially with real property interests or unique personal property items. Intentionally distributing these to the wrong party or keeping them for one’s self are common ways for executors to violate will provisions.
 
If the executor has intentionally disregarded the wishes of the testator, it may result in the following consequences:
 
  • A judge may remove the executor from their position and appoint a new manager of the estate
  • The executor may become subject to a private civil lawsuit by the family or other representatives of the estate
  • If the executor’s actions involved a violation of the law, it may result in civil or criminal charges
Being named an executor is a great responsibility and should not be accepted unless one is willing to work according to the intent as named in the will. If a dispute arises, a court of law will usually review the will to try and determine what the testator’s wishes and desires are. The executor should not act contrary to those interests. 

What If There Are Multiple Executors and a Dispute Arises?

As mentioned, the testator may choose to appoint several executors for the same estate. 
If a dispute arises between the different executors, most state laws provide that the majority rules over the opinions of an individual executor. The only exception to this is when the majority is clearly acting in direct opposition to the interests of the beneficiaries and the estate.
 
Thus, it is sometimes happens that executors of the same estate to file a lawsuit against one another. In such cases the court will again look to the testator’s intent, as well as the practicality of each executor’s desires. If the dispute cannot be resolved the court may replace one or more of the executors so that an agreement can be reached.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues with an Executor?

Disputes over estate matters can be very difficult because they often involve one’s family and close friends. It is advisable to minimize such conflicts by drafting a will that clearly state’s one’s intentions. If the dispute escalates or is difficult to resolve, one should contact an estate lawyer for advice and representation. An experienced estate attorney will be able to determine the proper course of action according to the specific laws of your state.  
 
Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-17-2018 08:50 PM PDT

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