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 who is responsible for managing an individual’s estate in the event that 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 instrument that is covered under estate planning materials.
In cases where there is either no will or no executor mentioned, however, the court is allowed to 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 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 best interests of the estate 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 in accordance with 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. Their other primary duty is to of course 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, in the event that 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 Happens If the Executor Breaches Their Legal Duties?
In general, being a will executor typically involves accepting the responsibility of having to be bound to a number of different legal duties and restrictions that will help to ensure that the estate is managed accordingly.
For example, an executor is not allowed to 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 best interest of the estate. 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, if the executor’s actions have caused the testator or the beneficiaries to suffer any financial losses, 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 for 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 in the event that you need to go to court to settle a legal issue regarding an estate.