Executorship of an estate can be a difficult and time-consuming job. Understanding the duties and what must be done can reduce stress in an emotionally difficult time.

What’s an executor?

Executors are people, banks or trust companies named in a will of a deceased individual that are charged with carrying out the wishes and settling the estate. An executor may also be known as a “personal representative” (or “administrator”) depending on where they live.

There are many legal and financial issues that must be addressed after someone dies. Before an estate can be closed, a death certificate must be filed. Funeral expenses and other liabilities must be paid. Assets must be distributed to heirs. There are many other tasks that must be completed. Many of these tasks are handled by the executor.

A will that does not name an executor or a will will be executed if someone dies before .

What does being someone’s executor mean?

  • An executor has a legal obligation to fulfill the wishes of the decedent according to the will, if any, and to comply with state laws.

  • The estate’s remaining assets are to be distributed to the rightful heirs by the executor. The executor is responsible for administering the estate’s remaining assets to the rightful heirs. The complexity of the estate may limit the ability for an executor to hire a probate attorney. It may be advantageous to hire an experienced professional if you have been appointed executor of a large estate, or if the estate has complex assets such as commercial real estate or business ownership.

Who would you choose to be your executor.

  • Name a close friend or institution to be your executor. An executor is someone you can trust, such as a family member or close friend, or even a lawyer or accountant with whom you have a history.

  • There are laws in many states that prohibit certain individuals from serving as executors. Executors may not be allowed to act for minors, convicted felons, or anyone who resides in another state. Before naming an executor to your will, make sure you check the laws in your particular state.

  • Sometimes, the executor of a will may not be available or able to fulfill their duties. A different family member or court may appoint an executor in these cases. You can also choose to resign from the executor role if you accept it.

What duties does an executor have?

Although the responsibilities of executors vary from one state to the next, the most important aspect of being executor from a legal perspective is the fiduciary obligation. Executors must always act in the best interests of the estate. Failure to do so could result in a lawsuit.

Additional responsibilities for an executor include:

  • The executor files the will and death certificate. To settle the estate, the executor must also locate a copy the will of the deceased and file the will with the probate court.

  • Notifying creditors and beneficiaries. If there is a will, the executor must inform creditors and beneficiaries that the deceased person has died. Creditors only have a short time frame to file claims against the estate for outstanding debts. They are not allowed to sue the estate if they do so within the time limit.

  • Appraisal and maintenance. Executors often hire an appraiser to help them with property appraisals.

  • Handling ongoing expenses. It can take several months for assets and property of the deceased to be transferred to a new owners. The executor will handle these bills. Mortgage payments, utility bills, and other monthly expenses must be paid by the estate while it waits. To ensure that these expenses are properly paid, an executor can open an estate account at a bank. The executor can deposit any outstanding payments owed to the decedent (e.g., a final paycheck or a life insurance payout that names the estate as a beneficiary).

  • The executor must pay any outstanding taxes and debts. Executors must file final tax returns for deceased persons and pay any taxes due.

  • Distributions to beneficiaries. The executor is responsible for distributing the estate’s assets to beneficiaries and heirs in accordance with the terms of the will.

How long does an executor take to settle an estate?

It can be a privilege to be the executor of an estate, but it can also be burdensome. Even simple estates can take several months to close. It can take many years to close a complicated situation.

To ensure that you understand the responsibilities of an executor you are considering, talk to anyone you are thinking about naming. Before you agree to become an executor for someone, be sure that you fully understand your responsibilities.