Being chosen as an executor is both an honor and an obligation. Before accepting, you should be sure you understand what you're getting into. Broadly speaking, you'll be distributing the deceased person's property and arranging for payment of estate debts and expenses.
Duties and responsibilities of an executor
An executor is legally responsible for sorting out the finances of the person who died, generally making sure debts and taxes are paid and what remains is properly distributed to the heirs.
State law varies on the requirements of who can serve as executors, but generally, executors tend to come from the close ranks of a family—spouses, children, parents, and siblings.
Although state laws provide for the payment of executors, since so many executors are close family members, they often don’t ask to be compensated.
In addition to carrying out duties in a diligent, impartial, and honest manner, an executor may also be required to perform any or all of the following activities, among others:
1. Get a copy of the will and file it with the local probate court
The executor is in charge of locating, reading and understanding the will—usually, even if probate isn’t necessary, the will still must be filed with the probate court. At this step, the executor also determines who inherits the property.
2. Notify banks, credit card companies, and government agencies of the decedent’s death
The Social Security Administration, along with the decedent’s bank and credit card companies, are just some examples of who should be notified of the death.
3. Decide what kind of probate is necessary
Because inheritance laws may facilitate the passing of certain properties without probate (such as property held jointly by a husband and wife), probate isn’t always necessary. Additionally, the value of the estate may allow it to pass through an expedited process. If probate is required, you need to file a petition with the court to be appointed an executor. You will likely need an attorney's assistance to accomplish this.
4. Represent the estate in court
An executor may be required to appear in court on behalf of the estate.
5. Set up a bank account for incoming funds and pay any ongoing bills
If the decedent is owed money such as incoming paychecks, this account can hold them. An executor should be on the lookout for mortgages, utilities, and similar bills that still need to be paid throughout the probate process.
6. File an inventory of the estate's assets with the court
In many states, the court requires the executor to submit a detailed inventory of the assets in the probate estate.
7. Maintain the property until it can be distributed or sold
This includes keeping up a house until it is distributed to heirs or sold- even deciding whether the property needs to be sold at all. Also, an executor must be sure to find all personal property in the estate and protect it until distribution. If the decedent had a safety deposit box, the executor should locate it and keep it safe.
8. Pay the estate's debts and taxes
State law dictates the procedure for notifying creditors, and the estate must also file income tax returns from the first of the current year until the date of the decedent's death. If the estate is large enough, there may be state and/or federal estate taxes to pay as well
9. Distribute assets
Distribution occurs according to the wishes expressed in the will. If there is no will, state intestacy laws apply.
10. Dispose of other property
If there is any property left after paying off the estate's debts and distribution to heirs, the executor is responsible for disposing of it.
Since estates vary greatly in size and complexity, an executor's job may be easy or challenging to carry out—and responsibilities may very well go beyond the 10 basic items in this list. But while an executor can decline the position or resign at any point in the process, sometimes all that is needed is some legal advice. Consulting with an attorney is generally to make sure that the executor properly complies with his or her duties.
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