When you die, an executor must collect your remaining assets, pay your creditors, and distribute your property according to a will -- or if you do not leave a will, according to state law. Illinois law provides for "reasonable" compensation for the work your executor must perform in administering your estate. The probate court has the ultimate say in whether a fee is reasonable. It will consider the hours involved, the size of the estate, and any unique circumstances.
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Duties of an Executor
If you name an executor in your will, she is referred to -- obviously -- as the "executor" of your estate. If you don't name someone in your will or if you don't leave a will, the court appoints someone, who's called an estate "administrator." Administrators and executors do essentially the same job and have several duties as part of the probate process. They include inventorying your property, preparing tax returns, notifying creditors, and distributing property to your beneficiaries or heirs.
The work required of an executor or administrator can be time-consuming. This is particularly true if you own a lot of property, if there are significant claims against the estate or if there are lawsuits to pursue or defend, such as a wrongful death action. Illinois law therefore provides that administrators and executors are entitled to "reasonable" compensation from the estate. Reasonableness is not defined in the law. The presiding judge determines it on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the circumstances. If the executor served as one of two witnesses to the will signing, however, no compensation is allowed. This is to avoid the appearance of a financial conflict of interest.
After the executor requests his fee, the probate court takes into account several factors when determining whether it is reasonable. These factors include the size of the estate, the skill with which the work was performed, and the time involved. An example of a unique circumstance requiring more work would be locating a beneficiary who moved abroad without leaving forwarding information. Although an itemized time sheet can be helpful in determining how much work was performed, failure to keep time sheets does not bar an executor from receiving compensation. If your will provides for less compensation than the executor believes is warranted based on the work performed, the court can adjust the fee to reflect an amount that is reasonable under the circumstances.
Beyond compensation for services, Illinois law allows executors to receive reimbursement for legitimate out-of-pocket costs. Like compensation, the legitimacy of any claimed administrative expense is determined by the probate court, and it must be viewed in the context of the particular estate. For example, a typical cost incurred in settling an estate is mileage and gas. A judge might be inclined to deny reimbursement for these travel expenses if the executor inexplicably drove to another county to complete a task when a phone call would have produced the same result.