Essentially, an executor is charged with protecting a deceased person’s property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and seeing that what’s left is transferred to the people who are entitled to it.
The law does not require an executor (also called a personal representative) to be a legal or financial expert, but it does require the highest degree of honesty, impartiality, and diligence. This is called a “fiduciary duty” – the duty to act with scrupulous good faith and honesty on behalf of someone else.
Executors have a number of duties, depending on the complexity of the deceased person’s financial and family circumstances. Here are the top ten duties you are tasked with in this role:
Get a copy of the will and file it with the 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.
Notify banks, credit card companies and government agencies of the 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.
Set up a bank account for incoming funds and to pay 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.
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 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.
Pay the estate’s debts and taxes.
State law dictates the procedure for notifying creditors, and the estate must also file final 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.
Distribution occurs according to the wishes expressed in the will. If there is no will, state intestacy laws apply.
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.