The executor plays a very important role after the testator (the person to whom the will relates) dies, including the tasks of tracking down assets, paying creditors, and making sure beneficiaries named in the will receive property to which they are entitled. Below are answers to frequently asked questions with respect to a will executor's duties. See FindLaw's Estate Administration section for additional articles and resources.
An executor is someone named in a will, or appointed by the court, who is given the legal responsibility to take care of a deceased person's remaining financial obligations. This means taking care of everything from disposing of property to paying bills and taxes. Most executors are immediate family members, with spouses, children and parents being the most common executors. See also Checklist: The Executor's Role.
Executors, as part of winding down an estate, will often perform the following functions, with the money to perform these duties comes from the estate itself:
See also What Does an Executor Do?
The person named as an executor in a will can decline the responsibility that being an executor entails. In addition, someone who originally accepted the role as executor can resign at any time. As a result, it is generally recommended that you name alternative executors, otherwise a court will appoint a replacement executor if your original choice bows out for some reason.
Generally, most executors perform their duties without payment, but executors are entitled to payment. The reason most executors don't request compensation is because most executors are close family members and perform their duties out of respect for the deceased. The amount an executor gets paid is set by state law and what a probate court decides is reasonable under the circumstances.
Many wills are fairly routine and simple, and require no specialized knowledge. Even if a will goes through probate court, the paperwork required does not require a legal degree. However, if there are disputes, complex property issues, significant tax liability, etc., then an executor should seriously consider getting professional help in the form of a lawyer. An executor may use a lawyer as a resource to ask legal questions, or the executor may turn the entire probate process over to the lawyer.
Although most wills are fairly routine and simple, if there are significant tax liability and financial considerations, then employing someone like an accountant or an estate planning attorney may be helpful. Keep in mind that executors may hire attorneys and pay them with proceeds from the estate. Find a local estate planning attorney near you today.