What Are the Duties of the Executor of a Last Will & Testament?

by Anna Assad

An executor is the individual who oversees and settles the estate of a deceased person. The will of the deceased person names the executor, who may be an heir, family member, attorney or any other person selected by the deceased person. The executor is granted legal authority during probate, the legal proceeding used to validate a will.

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Initiate Probate

The executor is responsible for completing and filing a petition for probate along with the original will. The probate petition lists information about the deceased person, known legal heirs, assets of the estate and the executor himself. The executor may hire an attorney to help him prepare and file the petition and locate all heirs of the deceased person. Letters Testamentary are issued to the executor, giving him the legal authority to perform his duties during probate proceedings.

Manage the Estate

The executor must handle, account for and protect assets of the deceased person. Financial accounts must by accessed by the executor so she can distribute the money to heirs in accordance with the will's provisions. She may petition the court to open safety deposit boxes or pay bills that immediately threaten assets, like an overdue mortgage payment on a home the deceased person owned. If the deceased person had a business, the executor has to transfer ownership to heirs or sell the company, depending on the will's directions. She must account for all her actions by filing inventory lists and supporting documentation with the probate court.

Pay Taxes

The executor must file the required tax returns for the estate, including federal and state returns, and pay outstanding tax liabilities. Inheritance or gift taxes may be due, depending on the total value of the deceased person's assets and property. The executor may have to obtain professional appraisals for estate property to establish true market values for tax purposes.

Pay Debts

Legally enforceable debts of the deceased person must be paid by the executor out of the estate's funds. The creditors of the deceased person may file a claim for money against the estate in probate court. The validity of the claim may be challenged by the executor. Fees associated with probating the estate, like attorney fees and court costs, have to be satisfied.

Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries

Once the estate's debts and taxes have been settled, the executor transfers assets and money from the estate to the beneficiaries under the will in accordance with the will's directions. The executor may be able to transfer partial inheritances early on in the probate proceedings, depending on state laws, the assets involved and the size of the estate. Real estate the deceased person owned may be transferred by the executor on a deed -- the legal document used to shown ownership of real estate -- to an heir or a buyer. An executor is typically required to obtain and file signed releases from each beneficiary to show that the person received his share of the estate.