Being named as the executor of a will can be both an honor and a challenge. It can also leave you with many questions. Most people in the United States have at least a passing familiarity with the Last Will and Testament – though not even half of all adults create one. For those who do, however, there are few choices more consequential than the decision about who will serve as the will’s executor. And often times, the person making out the will may not even fully understand what it is that executors are expected to do. Whether you are making out your own will or just discovered that you’ve been named as the executor of a will, there are certain things about that role that you need to know. Let our Ashland estate planning attorneys explain the duties of an executor.
What is the Executor’s Job?
The executor is the person you name to settle your estate when you die. He or she must be accepted by the court and is then charged with the legal responsibility to help the probate court complete the process of closing the estate. That can be a lengthy and involved process or a fairly simple one, depending upon the assets involved, the debts left behind, and the complexity of any tax issues. The executor is tasked with identifying, gathering and protecting assets, paying the deceased’s debts and taxes, and distributing assets to heirs in accordance with the terms of the will or the state’s intestacy laws.
An executor can be compensated for their service
Most people are unaware that executors can receive payment for their service, simply because most of them fulfill their role without ever seeking compensation. The fact is, though, that executors can be entitled to compensation for their role in the probate process. The amount that they can be paid is typically determined by the court as it decides what is reasonable and in accordance with the relevant provisions of state law. Since most executors are related to the decedent or beneficiaries of the will themselves, few actually attempt to get paid for the job.
Recognize that an executor’s service is voluntary
Some people believe that being named as an executor places an affirmative obligation upon them to perform those duties. That is not the case, however. The fact that someone names you to serve as executor does not mean that you have to accept the job. You are always free to decline the role and can do so for any reason or no reason at all. That’s an important fact to remember when you’re making out your will since even someone who told you that he would be happy to serve as your executor can change his mind after you pass away.
Be sure to name an alternate executor just in case
To avoid that potential problem, it is always wise to choose alternative executors when making out your will. That way, if one or even two of them decide that they have no interest in performing those duties, you will have others who can be selected to take on the role. If you fail to name alternates, the court will ultimately determine who serves as your executor – and that could leave your estate in the hands of someone you might never have chosen.
Specific duties of an executor
There are, of course, certain specific duties that an executor is required to perform. While the exact nature of these duties can vary from case to case, there are some basic things that all executors must do:
- Find the will and file it with the probate court in the county where the decedent was living when he died.
- Notify banks, relevant government agencies, and other interested parties about the death.
- Create an estate bank account to hold asset funds and pay estate bills.
- Identify and secure assets, create an inventory, and file that with the court.
- Determine whether probate is needed.
- Identify creditors, pay all valid debts, and take care of any tax filings that are due.
- Distribute the assets in accordance with the deceased’s wishes, or as directed by state law when there is no will.
- Prepare a final report for the court, detailing the settlement of the estate. Once that is filed and approved, the court will close the estate.
In addition, you may also have to perform other tasks like representing the estate in any court actions that may arise during the probate process. To protect your interests, consult with an attorney whenever you have questions about the legal ramifications of any course of action.
Join us for a FREE seminar today! If you have questions regarding executor duties or any other estate planning matters, please contact the experienced attorneys at The Potter Law Firm for a consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (704) 944-3245 (Charlotte, NC), (606) 324-5516 (Ashland, KY), or (859-372-6655 (Florence, KY). We are here to help!