What does it mean to be executor of an estate?

We’re often asked: What does it mean to be executor of an estate? Well, to be honest, it can be kind of complicated. For example, laws governing executors vary from state to state, and no two estates are ever the same. Some are very small and are settled with little trouble. Others contain multiple properties, many assets and, as a result, more complications.

Responsibilities of the executor

  • File the will in probate court. But before you do, be sure to read the will so that you understand the wishes of the deceased individual, such as specifics about who will receive what.
  • Set up a bank account for the estate. You’ll need to continue to pay bills such as the mortgage, utilities and taxes until the estate is settled.
  • Notify those who need to know. This list would include banks, government agencies, credit card companies, beneficiaries named in the will, etc.
  • Make an inventory of property and submit it to the surrogate court. Photograph or videotape as much as possible. Don’t forget smaller items such as jewelry and collectibles.
  • Find important papers. Locate up-to-date documents about the house’s mortgage and tax bills, and ensure that they are in good standing.
  • Secure the property. This includes the house or apartment and everything in it. Changing the locks, installing automatic light timers and notifying the local police department that the house is vacant are all recommended practices.
  • Pay off debts. Bills and taxes need to be paid until the estate is settled. 
  • Distribute the assets of the estate. Once all creditors have been satisfied, the assets of the estate can be distributed according to the instructions outlined in the will.
Here are some other important pieces of information to keep in mind:
  • As executor, you can use money from the estate to hire professionals — such as an experienced Realtor, a tax attorney or an estate liquidator — to help you settle the estate.
  • An executor has no personal liability for a decedent’s bills, meaning the executor cannot be sued by a creditor if the estate is short on funds to cover outstanding debts.
  • However, an executor can be sued by beneficiaries named in the will if he or she mismanages the estate or commits fraud. 
  • Remember that an executor is considered a fiduciary, meaning he or she is held to a high standard in regard to handling the estate’s financial matters.

So, what does it mean to be executor of an estate?

It means that you may have a long road ahead of you, but you should take pride in knowing that you are doing the very last special favor for a dear friend or loved one.

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