The Role of the Estate Executor, Explained

If you have been named estate executor, you most likely have questions about what your responsibilities entail. This is a very important role, and therefore it’s very important you get clear answers to your questions. What does an executor of a Will do? What are their responsibilities? What mistakes should an estate executor avoid?

Being named estate executor is an honor, but it is also a big responsibility…and not an easy job. The paperwork alone is daunting, never mind the human side! You may find yourself pacifying impatient heirs or mediating domestic squabbles.

Let us help answer your questions about the role of the estate executor in the estate administration process:

What is an Executor of an Estate?

An executor is also known as the “personal representative” of the estate and is designated to ensure the decedent’s Will is carried out. While the duties and responsibilities of the executor can vary, they generally include: getting the Court to formally admit the decedent’s Will to probate, handling the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, paying off creditors, issuing notices of death, and filing final tax returns. Executors work for the estate from the time of passing until probate is complete.

How Does an Executor Get Appointed?

In most situations, the estate executor is named in a person’s Will. Sometimes, however, the deceased has no will. In these cases, a probate court will name someone–usually a close relative–to serve in this role.

You do not have to accept the role of estate executor. If you refuse, an alternate or contingent executor named in the Will (or appointed by the probate court judge) will handle the responsibilities.

What are the Responsibilities of the Estate Executor?

If you have agreed to take on the role of estate executor, your responsibilities begin as soon as your loved one has passed away. Again, these responsibilities vary, but commonly include the following:

  1. Obtain multiple certified copies of the death certificate. The funeral home you are working with can typically get these for you, and they will be required for a range of tasks, such as closing bank accounts and filing insurance claims.
  2. One of the biggest responsibilities of the executor is to file the Will with the county’s probate court. If the estate needs to go through probate, you will also need to file a petition for this.
  3. In most cases, an executor is required to notify creditors, beneficiaries, and heirs that the Will has entered the probate process. This is another time when having extra copies of the death certificate will come in handy. You will need to notify Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, the U.S. Postal Service, other government agencies that provided payments or services, financial institutions, insurance companies…and the list goes on.
  4. The estate executor is responsible for settling any debts and paying final taxes. This will generally need to be done before beneficiaries can receive their inheritance. You are also responsible for paying any bills that outlived your loved one, such as mortgage payments or utility bills. Finally, you will need to make sure any estate tax obligations are fulfilled.
  5. Once all of the estate’s obligations are taken care of and creditors can no longer make claims on the estate, you can begin to distribute the assets as outlined in the Will.

What an Executor Cannot Do

The simple rule of thumb is this: if something is not in the best interest of the estate, then it is probably not the executor’s job. For example, any decision that places the executor’s interests above the interests of the estate is probably not the right decision.

The executor cannot override the Will, nor can the executor refuse to pay creditors or withhold a beneficiary’s inheritance.

It probably goes without saying, but the executor cannot take money from the estate, including distributing their own inheritance–or paying themself for their duties as executor–until the proper steps have been taken. The executor cannot sell the estate’s assets for less than market value or commingle their own assets with the estate’s assets.

Being an executor involves navigating the legal system and dealing with complex financial and tax situations. It is essential for you to understand your duties and limitations, as you are handling the highly sensitive contents of a loved one’s estate.

Like with other nuanced legal matters, hiring an attorney with experience in estate administration is your best bet. With an estate attorney by your side, you can be confident that you are approaching the estate administration and probate process as efficiently as possible, which can save you time, headaches, and money.

Contact the Hailey-Petty Law Firm

The Hailey-Petty Law Firm offers estate planning, estate & probate administration, trust administration, and elder law services in Austin and San Antonio, TX. We are dedicated to providing legal counsel that leaves our clients feeling confident in the security of their future. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support you through the estate planning process.