What does an executor of a will do?
If someone close to you has died, a family member or a dear friend, and you have been named as the executor of that person's Last Will and Testament, yours is a very solemn and special obligation. You have been entrusted to carry out the final wishes of your loved one regarding his or her estate.
Let's demystify the legal language just a bit; an executor is a man, while an executrix is a woman. This terminology has its roots in old English common law; for our purposes, let's keep things simple by using the term executor throughout.
People tend not to appoint executors without asking them first
It is highly unlikely that you have been named as executor of a loved one's will without your knowledge. In fact, many attorneys prefer that the named executor be present when the will is signed, witnessed, and sealed by a notary public. You can be a beneficiary of the will and still serve as executor, but you cannot sign as a witness to the will. In addition, if someone asks you to be executor of his or her will, you do not have to accept. If you do accept, you will be formally appointed by the probate court judge when your loved one's will is admitted to the court. The judge will sign your Executor's Letter of Appointment so that you can produce it whenever you are conducting the business of settlement of the estate.
With or without bond, and what does that mean?
The deceased will have directed in the will whether you, the executor, should serve with or without bond. If you are required to post bond, this just means that you must put into escrow a certain amount of money that guarantees that you will honestly and faithfully account for all of the deceased's estate. When you have finished your duties as executor, the bond will be returned to you. Since most people appoint a trusted family member as executor, you will most likely serve without bond.
You will be entitled to an executor's fee
By law, you are entitled to an executor's fee which is paid out of the deceased's estate. Being an executor is not a simple task and will take quite a bit of your time. You should therefore be compensated for your efforts. Of course, you may elect to waive an executor's fee if you wish, especially if you are also a beneficiary of the will. Your executor's fee will be set by the probate judge, just as the attorney's fees are set. You can claim both an executor's fee and your full inheritance under the will.
So, what does an executor do, exactly?
Here is a summation of things that you will need to do as an executor. Remember, you will always have an attorney at your side to help you.
- Immediately secure all assets of the deceased. This includes all bank accounts, CDs, IRAs, stocks, bonds, insurance papers, and any other monetary assets. You must also secure the residence of the deceased and make sure that nothing is taken from the home. Often, family members would like to have something that belonged to the deceased as a keepsake. This is OK, unless of course it's a ten-carat diamond ring! Cars, boats, motorcycles and other vehicles registered to the deceased are part of the estate; you must make sure they remain undisturbed until they are sold.
- Determine the legal heirs of the deceased. This includes a spouse and children that are named in the will, and also includes siblings, parents and grandparents. This is normally a very simple matter, but problems can arise when a child born out of wedlock comes forward to claim a fair part of his of her inheritance. As executor, you and your attorney would make sure that the child's claim is legitimate.
- Pay all outstanding debts of the deceased through your attorney and the probate court, including final expenses such as hospital care and funeral expenses. Estate tax is complicated, but your attorney will take care of securing an estate tax release for you. The estate cannot be settled until you have the estate tax release. You must arrange payment of the deceased's credit cards, car loans, and anything else that has a debt outstanding. At the final court hearing, the judge will order payment of a reasonable executor's and attorney's fee as well as all court costs related to the probate of the estate. The estate is NOT responsible for paying the beneficiaries' inheritance taxes; they must pay this themselves.
Think carefully about taking on the role of executor
Being an executor isn't easy. If someone you love asks you to be the executor of his or her will, think carefully about whether or not you are capable and willing to do so. Once you accept this obligation, you will have some difficult tasks to perform, but you will also have the assurance that your loved one trusted you in death as well as in life.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Death, the law and you section helpful too.
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