An executor is an individual appointed by the decedent, called the will’s testator, who is responsible for carrying out the decedent’s wishes as described in the will. As the executor, you have certain legal duties not only to the decedent, but also to his estate, heirs and the court. If you are unable or unwilling to serve as executor, you should make notice of this immediately so that a new executor can take over the responsibilities in your place.
Responsibilities to Decedent
First and foremost, your responsibility is to the decedent, the deceased individual who named you executor of her will. This includes filing the will for probate immediately after the decedent’s passing. You also have a legal duty to comply with the terms prescribed within the will and to carry out the decedent’s wishes, even if you do not agree. Failure to do so can create a dispute in probate, which means a judge may take over the responsibility of determining how the estate is handled.
Responsibilities to the Estate
Your next duty is to the estate, which encompasses the decedent’s real property, chattel property and any money left behind, including bank accounts, investments and trusts. Your duties to the estate start with applying for and obtaining an employer identification number (EIN), which, despite what the name implies, is the tax ID number you need to file and pay taxes on behalf of the estate. You also must calculate the worth of the estate, the amount of any outstanding debts (if applicable) and use the proceeds of the estate to satisfy any outstanding debts, including the mortgage.
Until the estate is properly divided in accordance to the will, you have a legal duty to protect the estate’s assets. This includes properly maintaining all real property, valuables and money the decedent has left behind. You may use money from the estate to satisfy any outstanding bills or debts of the estate, but you must do so honestly and scrupulously. You may not commingle the finances of the estate with your own, and you may not “borrow against” any portion of the estate you expect to inherit.
Responsibilities to Beneficiaries
After your responsibilities to the decedent and the estate, your duty is to the beneficiaries of the estate, including yourself. You have a responsibility to divide the estate in accordance with the will, to act in the interest and wishes of the decedent and to ensure every beneficiary receives the inheritance the decedent intended for him to receive. Withholding information from beneficiaries, lying or misrepresenting a beneficiary’s inheritance and removing any assets of the estate prior to division are all strictly prohibited.
Responsibilities to the Court
Lastly, you have a responsibility to the probate court. You must be honest at all times when discussing the will, the estate and the decedent’s wishes. You must not misrepresent the wishes of the decedent for personal gain or because you do not agree with the decedent’s plan. You have a duty to inform the court of all actions you take during your time as the executor of the will and a duty to comply with the court’s decisions if a dispute should arise during probate.
- "Wills, Trusts and Estate Administration"; Dennis Hower and Peter Kahn; 2005
- "Wills, Power of Attorney and Probate Guide"; Lawpack Publishing Ltd; 2003
- Cornell University Law School: 26 U.S.C. § 2203
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