Being named an executor of the last will or a decedent’s personal representative is a great honor, but it also entails several serious obligations and responsibilities. If that is your case, you may want to educate yourself on the subject and be aware of what is required from you during the probate process.
You may have already checked a guide to understanding the inheritance process, but there are still many things you need to learn. In this article, you will find information about 7 essential duties of an executor, ranging from filing the will with the local probate court, notifying interested parties of the decedent’s death, and representing the estate in the court to distributing the assets and closing the estate, among other things. Read on.
What Is an Executor?
An executor is a person named in the will to carry out the terms of that will. The executor manages and distributes the estate property (the “estate”) according to the instructions of the will. An executor is not required to be a beneficiary of the estate or even close relatives of the decedent, but they cannot be a creditor of the estate. They can be compensated for performing these duties.
You should know that an executor does not need to be an attorney, but he or she must meet the requirements under state law to serve as an executor and may have to take an oath before the probate court. The executor is also called the “personal representative” or “administrator” in some states.
1. Filing the Will in Probate Court
The role of the executor (personal representative) begins after the testator dies, when he or she files the will with the probate court and becomes a fiduciary for the estate. The executor is required to file an inventory of all estate property in a timely manner and report to the court if the property is destroyed or lost.
The probate process can take some time to complete, depending on how much property is involved and whether there are any disputes among the heirs.
2. Notifying Necessary Parties of the Decedent’s Death
After the executor (personal representative) learns that the decedent has passed away, they must notify appropriate parties such as creditors, beneficiaries, and other interested people. This should be done by sending out a certified letter, which may need to be mailed to different addresses depending on where everyone lives.
3. Paying Off Debts and Taxes
The first duties that come up after you become the executor include paying off the debts of the decedent. You must determine the creditors of the estate and pay them out of the assets of the estate. The executor is also responsible for selling any non-exempt assets of the estate that are not distributed to others and paying off creditors with those funds. The executor is also required to file an income tax return with the IRS for the deceased person.
4. Distributing Assets to Beneficiaries
The further duty of the executor is to distribute the deceased person’s assets to his or her beneficiaries. You should check the will to see who the beneficiaries are and whether any specific instructions on how they should receive their share apply. Some assets may require special action, like selling real estate or setting up a trust. If you are unsure about where to begin with distributing all of this, consulting a probate attorney can be very helpful.
5. Representing the Estate in Court
The executor is required to represent the estate in court when necessary – for example, if someone contests a will or if there is a dispute over who should receive an inheritance. When dealing with complicated estates, it is best to get help from qualified professionals.
6. Handling Property That Has No Beneficiary
The executor also has to handle any property that had no beneficiary or to follow instructions regarding such property if there was a will. For example, the decedent may have left a life insurance policy that does not have a named beneficiary, and therefore the executor determines who should receive that money. If there is no beneficiary, the money is usually distributed to the state or used for a charity.
7. Closing the Estate and Discharge of Executor
The executor files a closing statement with the probate court as the final step in probate administration, and once this is done, he or she can discharge him or herself from further responsibility. The probate court will then issue a final decree, which is proof of full administration of the decedent’s estate.
As you can see, several things need to be done in order to administer a deceased person’s estate and carry out the terms of his or her will. It is a big job, but also a very important one, as it helps protect the interests of those who are inheriting assets.
If you have been named an executor, it is important that you understand your rights and responsibilities and work closely with your attorney if you need help. You may also want to discuss your duties with other family members who will be inheriting assets so that everyone has a clear understanding of what needs to be done.