Understanding the duties and role as an executor

Why It Matters:

  • If you’ve been named as an executor — and you’re not sure what that means — read this article for a reference on what to expect.
  • Making the right critical choices comes down to understanding the duties required as an executor.
  • If you feel intimidated by the responsibility, that’s completely normal. It’s also normal to hire professionals to help.

Everplans tkc.profilePicture Written by: Everplans
May 22, 2018

7 Min readClock Icon

If you've been named as an executor, there are some important things you should know about your new role—whether you're called upon soon or in the distant future.

What's an executor or executrix?

An executor or executrix, also known as a “personal representative,” is the person named in a will to carry out the terms of the will. This person is responsible for overseeing the settling of the estate, paying any debts or taxes on behalf of the estate, and making sure that the people named in the will as beneficiaries receive their inheritances. Legally speaking, an executor is a male representative and an executrix is a female representative. For the purposes of this article, we’ll reference this role as executor to keep it a little easier to follow.

Related: What you need to know about wills (but never bothered to ask)

What are my duties as executor?

Your primary responsibility is to make sure that the instructions made in the will are properly followed. However, there are specific tasks that must be completed as well.

Depending on the nature and complexity of the estate, your job can include some or all of the following:

  • Taking an inventory of assets, protecting certain assets, or selling certain assets
  • Representing the estate in probate proceedings
  • Filing the will with the probate court and determining whether the estate is eligible for a streamlined probate process
    • Side Note: In a probate proceeding, the court checks the validity of the will, oversees the process of identifying the deceased person's property, paying any debts, identifying the proper heirs, and distributing the property to them
  • Setting up a bank account for any money that is owed to the deceased and delivered after death, such as final paychecks, stock dividends, or payment of debts owed to the deceased
  • Paying debts and taxes, including notifying creditors of the probate proceeding, and filing a final tax return on behalf of the deceased
  • Paying any ongoing expenses, such as making any payments on utilities, a mortgage, or any kind of insurance premiums
  • Identifying the inheritors distributing their assets

Related: Estate planning: The different types of trusts

When does my role as executor go into effect?

Your role goes into effect after the person who named you as executor dies. And while this may not be for quite some time, if you know you have been named as the personal representative there are some things you can do to prepare.

How should I prepare for my role as executor?

There are a number of different ways you can prepare. One way might be to discuss the details of the estate that you’ll be responsible for. This can include going over any complex financial or legal arrangements, getting a sense of the types of assets that the person has, or learning about the terms of the will.

You might want to ask:

  • Where is the will located ?
  • If the will was created with the help of an attorney, what is the attorney’s name, and what is the name of the law firm? What is the attorney’s contact information?
  • If the will was created using an online legal resource, what is the name of the website?
  • Are there any professional advisors that you should work with to settle the estate? Professional advisors may include attorneys, accountants, or financial planners.
  • Address any other concerns or questions that you have about your responsibilities ahead of time.

Related: Thinking about estate planning? You should be

What should I do once my role as executor goes into effect?

Your first responsibility is to submit the will to probate. (You cannot sell assets, pay debts, or distribute assets to beneficiaries until the probate process is complete.) To begin the probate process, you should go to the court (probate court or surrogate court) and file the will.

You may do this yourself or you may have an attorney do this on your behalf. If the court determines that the will is valid (that it was created by the person who you claim created it), the court will provide either of these legal documents: Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration. These documents will authorize you to begin the process of settling the estate.

Related: This checklist can help you organize your financial documents

Sifting through open accounts, debts, and assets

Once you have the proper documents you should locate the deceased person’s assets and keep them safe until they are sold or distributed to beneficiaries or creditors. Then continue with the following:

  • Make two lists. One for all the deceased person’s assets and another for all of the debts (including taxes). Before beneficiaries named in a will can receive any inheritance, all debts and creditors need to be paid off.
  • Notify all creditors of the death of the individual and begin making arrangements on how to proceed.
  • Set up a separate bank account in the name of the estate for debt payment and ongoing expenses like a mortgage or insurance.
  • Cancel any open accounts and credit cards and notify those companies of the person’s death.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration if the deceased person was receiving benefits.
  • File and pay taxes for the last year of life.

Once this is all taken care of, you can start distributing the assets and property, as specified in the will, to all beneficiaries.

Working with professionals

Feeling a little shaky about taking this on by yourself? You don’t have to do it alone. You can hire professionals to help with certain tasks, such as an attorney to help with probate proceedings or an accountant to help with handling financial matters.

In some cases, provisions may be made in the will to pay for working with these types of professionals. If the will did not make arrangements for working with professionals, you may still hire professionals to help you, and the estate can pay for any fees that they may charge.

This article is provided by Everplans — a life and legacy planning company dedicated to transforming the way people get their families organized. For more information, visit: everplans.com

Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide tax, investment, or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

Things to Consider:

  • Being name the executor of a will is a big responsibility that can also seem intimidating.
  • Prepare ahead of time by talking through the will with the person you are representing.
  • If you feel unsure about the duties you need to see through, consider hiring professionals, like an attorney and an accountant to help you.


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