When a person dies, all of the deceased's possessions become a part of his or her estate, which must then be administered according to the will of the deceased person. The person who handles the administration of the estate is the "executor." Just as a quick summary, estate administration refers to the process of collecting the estate, paying any debts or taxes owed by the estate, and distributing the remaining property of the estate to the beneficiaries. FindLaw's section on Executors provides information on the role and duties of an executor. There is also a frequently asked questions section to help guide you in picking an executor for your estate.
The Executor's Role
The executor is the person responsible for locating and collecting all of the deceased's property, making sure any debts and taxes are paid off, and distributing the remaining property and money to the beneficiaries. The money to pay off any debts or taxes comes from the estate. In addition, the executor is entitled to a lawyer if he or she needs help with his or her duties.
Some more specific examples of what an executor can be tasked with doing include obtaining a death certificate, initiating the probate process, filing paperwork in probate court, and contacting the beneficiaries of the estate. The executor is required to perform his or her tasks in accordance with the will and in compliance with the probate laws of each state. The executor is also required to perform his or her duties diligently and in good faith.
Choosing an Executor
There are very few restrictions for who can be an executor. Generally, the executor can't be a person under the age of 18 and the executor can't be a felon. There could also be restrictions on a person who lives out-of-state serving as an executor. Usually legal or financial knowledge isn't necessary to serve as an executor because wills are usually straightforward. And, if the will is complicated or difficult to understand, the executor can consult with an attorney.
Since there aren't many restrictions or requirements for being an executor, usually people appoint a spouse, child, or sibling as the executor of their will. It's important to choose a person who is honest, responsible, and organized. If you're selecting a family member to serve as the executor it's also a good idea to consider what impact the selection will have on your family. For example, if the youngest of three children is named as the executor, the two older children might feel that they were not trusted or worthy enough to serve as the executor. This can lead to problems between siblings, and maybe even a will contest.
Another factor to consider when selecting an executor is where the executor lives. It's much easier for an executor to perform his or her duties if he or she is close to the majority of the estate's assets. Finally, it's a good idea to name an alternative executor in case the originally named executor can't or doesn't want to serve as the executor.
Whoever you name as your executor, it's important to let the person know that you want him or her to serve as your executor. Letting the person know allows the person to accept or decline to serve as the executor. You should also tell the person where your records are kept and probably give them a copy of your will.
Hiring an Attorney
If you've been named the executor of a will, you might need some guidance getting through the probate process. Generally, as an executor of a will, you are entitled to hire an attorney at the expense of the estate. Even if the will doesn't provide for an attorney, if you have questions or concerns about being an executor, it's probably a good idea to consult with an estate planning attorney.
Learn About Executors
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