An executor is the individual named as the legal representative for an estate in the Last Will and Testament of a deceased person. The person named as executor must petition the probate or surrogate's court where the deceased person lived to obtain a court order allowing her to act on behalf of the estate. The duties of an executor may vary by state, but once appointed, the transfer of property and money to beneficiaries is generally the executor's responsibility.
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An executor handles the financial affairs of the deceased person, carrying out the expressed wishes in the person's Last Will and Testament and distributing estate money, income and assets accordingly. Property is typically transferred to the heir who is entitled to the real estate per the will on a deed, the legal document used to convey ownership of real estate. The executor has the legal right to make decisions about assets that are not specifically left to a beneficiary, and may sell items or property to generate money for the estate.
Once an executor is appointed, the heirs and beneficiaries under the will cannot take real estate, money or personal property of the deceased person without the consent of the executor. If a will does not leave property to a particular person, an interested beneficiary may ask the executor to receive ownership of the property in lieu of cash, but the executor does not have to agree to the arrangement and may need permission from the other heirs. A will that leaves a specific piece of property to a person must be obeyed. The executor must transfer the property to the beneficiary entitled to receive the real estate under the will.
A person's entitled share in the estate may not sufficient to cover the market value of the real estate he wishes to receive if he is requested the property in lieu of cash. The other beneficiaries are entitled to the share of the estate stipulated in the will, so the difference between the person who wants the property's share and the property's value must be paid to the estate. The beneficiary requesting the property may have to take out a mortgage to finance the difference or come up with the money out-of-pocket.
The executor cannot alter the terms of the will, but the other beneficiaries can challenge or contest the will's validity and directions. If the court rules in favor of a person challenging the will, a provision leaving property to a particular person may be voided. An executor must account for his activities and distributions to the court; he must prove he followed the directions for asset allocation as set forth in the will. Any property or assets he sells or transfers have to be documented with the court. Failure of the executor to distribute assets properly may result in a civil lawsuit from the estate recipients and the revocation of the executor's legal right to act as such by the court.