Simply put, an executor is a person who has been appointed or entrusted with the task of managing and overseeing a person’s estate. When we die, the belongings and assets we leave behind become part of our estate, and must be legally distributed according to the terms of either a will or the state laws. In cases where the person who dies has a will in place, the person who is responsible for managing the affairs of the estate is the executor. The executor usually assumes the role after the estate holder dies.
Managing an estate is a major undertaking, and requires attention to detail as well as honesty. When selecting an executor, you will want to choose someone who is trustworthy as well as capable of handling a variety of tasks. The executor should be someone who is capable of managing property, bank account assets, and possible distribution of those assets.
The duties of the executor should be specifically listed in an estate planning document, and include making sure that debts or creditors are paid off, and that the remaining property of the estate is distributed appropriately.
Some typical duties that the executor handles can include:
- Overseeing the estate holder’s property and assets after death, which can also include maintaining the condition of property until it can be distributed;
- Notifying banks, credit card companies, and government agencies in the event of the estate holder’s death;
- Making sure the will is filed in the appropriate probate court;
- Dealing with outstanding debts and property taxes;
- Paying final income taxes;
- Filing an inventory of the estate’s assets with the court;
- Dealing with issues and concerns that beneficiaries of the estate may have;
- Creating an estate account, which is used during the process of managing the estate property; and
- Represent the estate in court for legal issues, including any estate disputes.
Depending on how the estate documents are drafted, the executor’s responsibilities can be very broad or very limited. No matter how broad the scope of the executor’s duties, it is important to keep accurate records of everything that is done for the benefit of the estate.
The executor will need to create an accounting of the estate, which should include any distributions and expenses as well as any income earned by the estate. If an issue is too technical for the executor, or beyond their capabilities, they may wish to consult a professional for help, such as an accountant or a lawyer.
Disputes between executors and beneficiaries of the estate are common in situations where the executor does not carry out their duties efficiently or properly. Disputes can also happen where the beneficiaries feel that the executor is not managing the estate properly. It is also common for disputes to arise when the beneficiaries do not agree with the executor’s decisions regarding the estate, or how they interpret certain provisions of the will.
While many disputes can be resolved smoothly, sometimes the disagreement requires the court to step in. In these situations, the court will review the will and other estate documents. The documents should carefully outline the executor’s duties and responsibilities, as well as the scope of their authority. The court will review the executor’s actions in light of what is set forth in the estate documents, and either clarify or give direction on how to proceed.
For example, the court may give specific instructions with regards to the distribution of a particular item or items (if those items are the source of the dispute). In very serious circumstances, if an executor is wilfully behaving against the best interests of the estate, the court may remove the executor from their position.
In very serious instances, interested parties to an estate can petition the court to remove the executor from their position. The court can always remove an executor who turns out to be dishonest or seriously incompetent. Each state has its own rules about what reasons are considered sufficient for removal. However, courts will remove an executor who does not fulfill their duties, uses estate funds for personal use, or has a conflict of interest that would interfere with the administration of the estate.
If you have been appointed executor for an estate, you will quickly find out that the responsibilities and duties can be expansive and comprehensive, and might be overwhelming at times.
You may want to seriously consider consulting an experienced estate lawyer if you need help with any estate executor issues. Your attorney will be able to provide you sound legal advice on the issues, and help guide you through the probate process as you perform your duties in this position.
Likewise, if you need to file a lawsuit over an estate dispute, or if there is a dispute involving the appointment of the executor, you may want to seek guidance from a local attorney. Your attorney can provide you valuable advice on how to best handle the situation, and also help you through the process of filing a lawsuit and represent your interests in court.