Are You a Legal Professional?

What Does an Executor Do?

Many people wonder what the exact definition of an executor is -- this article will hopefully clear up some of the confusion. See Checklist: The Executor's Role and Will Executor Duties FAQ for more information.

Executor Definition: Oversees disposition of property and possessions

Serving as the executor of someone's last will and testament can be an honor and the most terrifying experience of your life at the same time. By definition, an executor is entrusted with the large responsibility of making sure a person's last wishes are granted with regards to the disposition of their property and possessions. When it boils down to essentials, an executor of a will is responsible for making sure that any debts and creditors that the deceased had are paid off, and that any remaining money or property is distributed according to their wishes.

Although the law does not require an executor to be a lawyer or other legal or financial expert, it does require than every executor fulfill their duties with the utmost honest and diligence. The word for this in the law is a "fiduciary duty," which holds the executor to act in good faith with regards to a person's will.

An executor is not entitled to proceeds from the sale of property of the estate. Depending on the particular state, generally, an executor is only entitled to a fee as compensation for administering the will. Most states mandate that this fee be reasonable given the size or complexity of the will.

Executor Definition: Fulfill specific duties

There are many duties that an executor of a will may have to fulfill, depending upon the complexity of the will and the property to be distributed. These duties normally include:

  • Finding the deceased person's assets. The executor is also responsible for keeping the assets safe until they can be property distributed to those named in the will or to creditors. This management of assets can include deciding which and what types of assets to sell as well as what kinds of assets and property to keep.
  • Deciding if probating the last will and testament in court is necessary. Probating a will is the process of getting a court to approve the validity of the will. The decision of whether or not to probate a will can often depend upon the laws of the state that the will is going to be administered in, as well as the value of the property that will pass via the will.
  • Finding and contacting the people that were named in a will who are supposed to inherit money or property. The executor is generally in charge of making sure the property that is named in the will goes to the right people.
  • Making sure the will is filed in the appropriate probate court. This is generally required by law even if the will does not need to be probated.
  • Wrapping up the deceased's affairs. This can include everything from canceling credit cards that area still open to notify a bank about the death of the individual. In addition, if the deceased person was already collecting Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration should be contacted.
  • Setting up a bank account for the estate. Executors are generally required to keep the estate's money separate from their own funds. Setting up a bank account in the name of the estate can make paying off debts to creditors easier.
  • Continuing necessary payments. The funds in the estate's bank account can be used for making mortgage, insurance and other recurring payments that need to be paid during the administration of the will.
  • Paying off debts and creditors. In general, before any person named in a will can receive any inheritance, the deceased debts and creditors need to be paid off. The executor of the will should notify all creditors of the death of the individual and see how they wish to proceed.
  • Paying final income taxes. As the saying goes, the two things that are definite in life are death and taxes, and they even go together. Generally, the executor of a will is responsible for making sure that the deceased's income taxes for the last year he or she was alive are paid.
  • Ensuring the property distribution of the deceased's property. Property that is given through a will should be given as it is recorded. However, if there is other property that is not named in the will, it should pass according to the laws of the state.

Note that if there is no will in place, the person in charge is generally called the administrator and will be in charge of determining state law to see who property will pass to in "intestate succession."

Next Steps
Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help you ensure
that your loved ones are cared for and your wishes are honored.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution