Before describing what an executor or administrator of an estate does, it is helpful to know what an estate is first. Briefly, the term “estate” refers to the total sum of an individual’s personal belongings, real property, and tangible and intangible assets.
An “executor” of an estate, therefore, refers to the designated person responsible for managing an individual’s estate if the individual becomes deceased or otherwise incapacitated.
The executor or administrator of the estate will normally be listed in a legal document, such as a will, a trust, power of attorney, or other legal instruments that are covered under estate planning materials.
In cases where there is either no will or no executor mentioned, however, the court can appoint a person to act as an executor of the individual’s estate.
What Does an Executor of Estate Do?
The whole point of selecting an executor or administrator of an estate is to make sure that the intentions of the deceased or incapacitated individual are properly carried out in accordance with their will.
Basically, this means that the executor will be responsible for acting in the estate’s best interests and contacting the rightful beneficiaries mentioned in the will. Sometimes, an executor may even have to defend the estate against a lawsuit.
An executor has many duties to comply with, both per a person’s last wishes as well as any applicable estate laws. However, their main responsibility is to ensure that all of the decedent’s taxes and debts are paid out. Of course, their other primary duty is to make sure that any remaining assets go to the entitled beneficiaries.
Some other official duties of an executor may also include the following tasks:
- Identifying and classifying the various types of properties, assets, and monies that make up the individual’s overall estate;
- Notifying any family, friends, financial institutions, government agencies, and sometimes even media outlets about the individual’s passing;
- Managing the daily affairs of the estate (e.g., collecting outstanding mail or paying off bills, and so on);
- Reporting and initiating conflict resolution for any disputes that concern the estate;
- Terminating leases, magazine subscriptions, credit cards, gym memberships, and so forth;
- Filing the will of the deceased in probate court (if it has not been done already); and
- Completing other various tasks that may be specifically mentioned in supporting documents created by the estate holder.
In addition to the duties listed above, the estate holder may also delegate certain tasks with extremely detailed instructions to their executor.
For example, if the estate holder becomes ill or incapacitated, they might also provide supplemental tasks to be included under the executor’s role. An example of this is appointing the executor to be in charge of the household while they are recovering from an illness or other treatable medical condition.
Whether or not these types of situations — where executors are delegated such additional tasks — will arise will all depend on the individual needs and preferences of the estate holder.
What Should I Know as an Executor?
Executing a will takes more work than you might anticipate. Before you agree to act as an executor, understand that some hazards may result. Read on to know how you can address some of these potential hazards and smoothly manage your job as an executor.
- Disputes with co-executors. If a parent has more than one child, it’s common for all children to be named co-executors to avoid favoritism. However, this arrangement may not run smoothly. Some children may be out-of-state or out of the country. This makes it difficult to handle hands-on activities, such as securing assets or selling a home. Some children may not have the financial ability to deal with creditors, understand estate taxes, or do the accounting to satisfy beneficiaries. Having multiple executors adds to the amount of paperwork. Forms that need to be signed by one executor must be signed by all.
- Disputes with heirs. Executors must secure the assets of an estate and distribute them according to the deceased person’s wishes. In some families, heirs may cherry-pick heirlooms and other valuables before the funeral. Executors may create angst and family drama in making disbursements to heirs. Distributing property or selling property for cash may create disharmony. Executors must be careful when doing their job. To combat this, executors should secure the home and other assets as quickly as possible. Executors should inform heirs that this is the law. Executors should also share information about the decedent’s wishes. The decedent’s wishes may be described in a will or listed in a separate document.
- Be mindful of time. One of the biggest drawbacks to being an executor is the amount of time it takes to handle responsibilities. Great amounts of time are involved in contracting various government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, in stopping Social Security benefits. Surviving spouses may also want to claim the $255 death benefit from the Social Security Administration. IRS and state tax authorities must be contacted about income taxes and death tax matters. The state must be contacted for unclaimed property. Utility deposits must be recouped, along with all other outstanding amounts that belonged to the decedent.
What Happens If the Executor Breaches Their Legal Duties?
In general, being a will executor typically involves accepting the responsibility of being bound to a number of different legal duties and restrictions that will help ensure that the estate is managed accordingly.
For example, an executor cannot combine their own money with the funds that belong to the estate. They also cannot use any estate property for their own benefit.
On the other hand, the executor will sometimes be required to make investments using the estate property when it would be in the estate’s best interest. This is part of the executor’s duty to handle assets and make sound business judgments on behalf of the estate.
If the executor breaches their duties, such actions could lead to the removal of the executor from their position. A judge may appoint another individual to take the executor’s place. Also, suppose the executor’s actions have caused the testator or the beneficiaries to suffer any financial losses. In that case, the executor might be required to pay a damages award in order to recover those losses and make up for their mistakes.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer to Help with Estate Laws Involving Executors?
Oftentimes, the tasks assigned to the executor or administrator of an individual’s estate can be quite demanding to fulfill. Aside from the person’s will, an executor also needs to make sure that they are abiding by the governing estate laws.
As such, if you have questions or concerns regarding the duties of an estate executor, then you may want to contact a local estate attorney for further guidance.
Alternatively, you should also hire an estate attorney if you are the individual appointing the executor of your own estate. An experienced attorney can help you to select the person best suited to carry out the tasks of an executor.
Additionally, an estate lawyer can provide legal representation if you need to go to court to settle a legal issue regarding an estate.