What does an Estate Executor do?

Susan Grindstaff

An estate executor is someone who is left in charge of the estate of a deceased individual. Sometimes an executor is named in the will, but in some cases, he may be court appointed. This is common when there is no one named in a will or when the deceased has died without leaving a will. The primary responsibilities of an estate executor include settling the debts of the estate, and making sure that instructions within a will are carried out. An executor might also handle interim ongoing responsibilities related to the estate such as business interests or property maintenance.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

If a will has been left, it is typically read within days following death. In most cases, if an executor has been appointed within the will, he is already aware of his status, and in many cases may already have a copy of the will. Within the will, instructions are usually given regarding bequeaths, burial, and any other last wishes. The estate executor will be responsible for making sure that these bequeaths are administered as closely as possible to the terms of the will, and will make sure funeral arrangements are carried out in the manner requested in the will.

In addition to handling bequeaths, the estate executor is in charge of paying any debts or taxes owed by the estate. This is usually carried out before bequeaths are finalized because the amount of debt could possibly affect the amount of the bequeaths. If that is the case, the executor will have to make a decision on how to restructure the distribution of the remaining assets.

Sometimes, in the course of carrying out will instructions, it is necessary for the estate executor to file paperwork in probate court. In many jurisdictions, estates must remain in probate for a specified period, so any claims against the estate have time to be properly registered and filed. If very little monetary assets are under consideration, in many cases, probate can be expedited.

In cases where the decedent has left a business, the estate executor will be responsible for making sure it remains running until the estate is settled. If property is involved, it will be up to the estate executor to be sure it is maintained as well. This includes seeing to repairs and upkeep, and collections of any rental monies owed to the estate.

If the estate executor is court appointed, his responsibilities are typically the same as they would be had the executor been named by the decedent. Sometimes, courts make an effort to appoint someone who is close to the estate, but in other cases, they may select a complete outsider. This is common in cases where no one is available to handle the estate that does not have a stake in the outcome of asset distribution.

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