What to Do as Executor of an Estate
If you have been named as the executor of an estate after someone dies (also sometimes referred to as an executor of a will), your job is to oversee the deceased’s financial accounts, property, assets, debts, and other items included in a will. At the time of death, the management and disbursement of these finances becomes your responsibility—and the responsibility can often be a large one.
Who Serves as Executor?
The executor is named in the deceased’s will as the person to take charge of all personal and business effects. This person is usually a close family member (often an adult child) with whom the deceased has already asked to take on this important task. It does not have to be a family member, however. A close friend or even a lawyer can legally be named as executor.
If no one has been named executor but a probate court decides one is necessary, then they will appoint one for you.
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process by which a will is validated and put into action. Once the will is proven legal, it then becomes the task of the executor to begin inventorying all assets, debts, and other property. They do not sell them at this time; they merely make a record so that a fair division of the assets can begin.
Because probate can be a lengthy process (especially if someone wants to contest the will or there is a dispute in the family), the executor is also responsible for maintaining the property until it can be sold off. This includes things like paying the bills on a property, providing security and/or maintenance as it is needed, and taking care of all taxes. All costs for these services come directly from the estate, usually in a bank account set up for this express purpose.
What Does the Executor Do?
Once probate has been granted and all items inventoried, the executor’s first task is to have everything appraised so that the items can be disbursed according to the will. In some cases, these items will be sold off and the money shared between beneficiaries. In others, the property is signed directly to those named in the will. It all depends on how the deceased set up their will.
In cases where the beneficiary is not yet of legal age to become the owner, the executor will set up a trust or oversee the property for them.
What Happens if I Don’t Want to Be Executor?
Most people are asked about being executor of a will in advance, but the task can sometimes be foisted on a person as a surprise—and an unpleasant one, at that. Alternately, you may find that your life situation at the time of death does not allow for the time and effort needed to oversee everything.
It is possible to reject this role, although it must be done as soon as possible (before probate is granted) and filed with the courts. Serving as executor is a big task, and it is not for everyone, so do not be afraid to pass if you find yourself emotionally unable to handle it at this time.