A will is a set of directions for carrying out someone’s wishes after that person, called a testator, dies. If the will names a man or a woman to handle the testator’s estate, the catchall term is “executor.” If a woman is chosen, she’s sometimes called an “executrix.” That’s a matter of language, not law, because the roles of an executrix are exactly the same as the roles of an executor.
An executrix is a woman named by a testator to manage and wind up the testator’s estate after he dies. Often an executrix is the wife or daughter of the deceased, but she can be any adult female, even one that is unrelated to the testator. The decision is solely the testator’s. A probate court generally won’t question the decision unless a beneficiary or other interested party challenges it. If the executrix is unable or unwilling to serve, the court will appoint an administrator. A female administrator is sometimes called an “administratrix.”
The executrix begins probate by filing the will with the court. The court then issues letters testamentary to the executrix. That is an order approving the selection of executrix and authorizing the executrix to manage the estate. The executrix then gathers the estate's assets. These assets may include stocks and bonds; bank accounts; real property, such as houses and land; and tangible personal property, such as jewelry, cars, boats and even sentimental items. The executrix may be required to assign a value to each piece of property, or hire experts to appraise the assets.
Another important role for the executrix is paying the estate's debts if there are any. Sometimes the executrix advances her own money to pay for the testator’s funeral. If that happens, the executrix has a claim against the estate, like any other creditor. The executrix must then present her bills to the court to be repaid out of the estate. The most significant creditors, however, are the state and federal governments, which levy estate taxes in certain situations. Any outstanding income taxes must also be paid. The executrix decides whether to hire lawyers and accountants and negotiates their fees. The executrix also reviews the estate's outstanding bills. She may also cancel credit-card accounts, pay medical bills and settle other bills presented by creditors to the executrix or to the court.
The final role for the executrix is filing a written accounting with the probate court. This accounting lists probate assets as well as taxes to be paid, costs incurred in settling the estate and other debts. The executrix pays out what’s left in the estate to the beneficiaries, according to the testator’s directions. The executrix can be a beneficiary of the will herself, so long as she accounts to the court for any payout. An executrix also is entitled to a fee for administering the estate. A state’s probate laws set out a sliding scale for fees, based on the size of the estate. If the windup is especially complex, requiring out-of-the-ordinary work, the executrix can ask the court to set a bigger fee.