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Will Executor Duties FAQ

Written by: Mathew Courtney, Esq. , Contributing Author
Reviewed by: Catherine Hodder, Esq. , Senior Legal Writer
Last updated March 08, 2024

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An executor is a court-appointed representative for the decedent’s estate. If the testator named an executor in their last will and testament, that person has priority as the executor. But what are the duties of an executor? Below is a simplified guide of what an executor does on behalf of the estate.

Table of Contents

What Is an Executor?

An executor is a court-appointed representative for the decedent’s estate. If the testator named an executor in their last will and testament, that person has priority as the executor. But what are the duties of an executor? Below is a simplified guide of what an executor does on behalf of the estate.

The court appoints an executor to take care of a deceased person’s estate and remaining financial obligations. An executor is also commonly known as a personal representative. A testator (one who makes a will) often nominates who they want as their executor in their last will and testament. Most executors are immediate family members, with surviving spouses, children, and parents being the most common executors. However, a testator can name anyone as an executor of a will. And if the decedent dies without a will, someone can petition the court to serve as executor.

Some state laws vary on who can serve as an executor. For example, they may require a family member as executor if the decedent dies without a will. When drafting your last will and testament, check your state’s laws to ensure you are naming a valid executor to administer your estate.

See also: Checklist: The Executor’s Role.

What Do Executors Do?

The executor is the contact for the decedent’s estate through the entire administration of the estate. Whether the testator names the executor in their will or if the decedent died intestate, the probate court determines the executor. The executor or someone willing to serve as the executor petitions the court for the court to appoint them as the executor. If the decedent did leave a will, the named executor should have a copy of the will and submit it to the probate court to have it admitted to the case. When formally appointed, the executor can act on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

Following the appointment, the executor takes on a fiduciary duty to properly manage the assets of the estate. Estate assets include anything of value in the estate, including but not limited to:

  • Bank accounts
  • Real property (such as real estate)
  • Personal property
  • Life insurance policies

If the decedent was receiving benefits from social security, the executor provides a death certificate to the social security administration to verify the date-of-death and stop benefit payments.

The executor is also responsible to account for all of the decedent’s debts. This includes any credit cards, loans, mortgages, or other debts the decedent had when they died. The executor provides copies of the death certificate to close out accounts.

The executor will likely have to open an estate account at a financial institution to keep track of any additional funds the estate receives following the decedent’s death, such as a final income tax return and an estate tax return.

Additionally, the executor is the contact person for the estate’s beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are entitled to notice of proceedings throughout the probate process, and it is the executor’s responsibility to ensure they are properly informed.

As part of winding down an estate, executors will often perform the following functions, with the money to perform these duties coming from the estate itself:

  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries according to the will
  • Maintaining property until property distribution (e.g., upkeep of a house)
  • Paying bills for the estate
  • Paying state estate taxes if necessary
  • Paying federal estate tax if necessary

It is important to note that an executor is not responsible for paying for or coordinating funeral arrangements as a part of their required duties. However, the executor should obtain a copy of the paid receipt of the funeral services. Otherwise, the funeral expenses are considered a debt of the estate.

Additionally, an executor is not a power of attorney. While people often name the same person as both their power of attorney and executor, they are entirely different roles. A power of attorney is only valid during the testator’s life. An executor only has authority after the testator’s death.

See also: What Does an Executor Do?

Can an Executor Refuse the Responsibility?

The person named as an executor in a will can decline the responsibility that being an executor entails. In addition, someone who initially accepted the role as executor can resign at any time. Therefore, you should name backup or alternative executors; otherwise, a court will appoint a replacement executor if your original choice is unwilling or unable to serve.

Do Executors Get Paid?

Generally, most executors perform their duties without payment, but executors are entitled to payment. Most executors don’t request compensation because they are close family members or loved ones and perform their duties out of respect for the deceased. State laws may set the compensation amount, or a probate court decides what is reasonable under the circumstances. However, executors should receive reimbursement for any expenses they incur in administering the estate (i.e., accounting fees, tax preparation fees, etc.)

Do Executors Need To Hire a Lawyer?

Many wills are routine and straightforward and require no specialized knowledge. Even if a will goes through probate court, the paperwork necessary does not require a legal degree. However, an executor should consider getting legal advice if there are disputes or complex property issues. An estate attorney can assist in giving step-by-step guidance to the executor throughout the probate process. or you can use the lawyer for legal advice.

And if there are significant tax liability and financial considerations, then employing someone like an accountant or an estate planning attorney is helpful. Keep in mind that executors may hire attorneys and accountants and pay their fees from the estate.

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