The executor of a will is responsible for settling all matters relating to an estate after the testator's death. Because this job is highly time-consuming and carries great responsibility, select your executor with care. Discuss the role with your choice before officially naming him in your will, and make sure that he feels qualified to handle the task. You may also want to name an additional executor in your will in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to perform his duties.
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The highest duty of an executor is a fiduciary one. This means that executor has a legal and ethical responsibility to act with honesty, impartiality and fairness with respect to the estate. An executor can in no way take advantage of her position, and must make decisions that reflect judgment as good as any “prudent individual.” An executor can be held personally liable for any breach of this duty.
Managing Financial Affairs
The executor must settle all financial matters relating to the estate. This includes determining creditors, paying bills and taxes, filing the final tax return, managing assets and securities portfolios, and making an inventory of the estate’s assets and liabilities. The deceased’s debts and expenses are paid for with the funds of the estate, which are drawn on a bank account that the executor must open in the name of the estate. The executor is usually entitled to invest, liquidate or sell assets to cover debts and expenses, if necessary. The executor may hire an accountant to aid him in settling these affairs.
Settling Adminstrative Matters
The executor is responsible for all administrative tasks that arises upon the death of an individual. For example, the executor must notify the appropriate financial and governmental institutions of the death, cancel the decedent’s credit cards, club memberships and subscriptions, and arrange for probate of the will.
Handling Legal Matters
The executor becomes responsible for any legal actions for or against the estate, and may initiate an action on the behalf of the estate, if necessary. The executor has the power to hire an attorney on the estate’s behalf -- and expense -- in such matters.
Executing the Instructions in the Will
The executor is responsible for carrying out the final instructions described in the will. The executor must distribute the assets to the beneficiaries and attempt to locate any beneficiaries that cannot be readily found. She must also deliver any personal property items bequeathed and obtain receipts. Ultimately, the executor has to prepare and present a full accounting of the estate’s administration and present it to the beneficiaries.
References & Resources
- TD Waterhouse: Duties of an Executor
- "USA Today": Executor of Estate Has Duties, Options
- "The Executor's Guide: How to Administer an Estate Under a Will"; Linda Kirby; 2004
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