Do Executors Have to Give an Accounting to Beneficiaries?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Do Executors Have to Give an Accounting to Beneficiaries?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When a loved one passes away, the court appoints an executor, personal representative, or administrator to manage their estate. State laws determine the specific title. No matter what your state calls this role, it's an important job. One of the executor's responsibilities is preparing an accurate and complete inventory and accounting for estate beneficiaries.

Man holding a pen to his temple looking intently at paperwork as he sits at a desk with an open laptop

Estate Administration Basics

Individual state laws dictate whether estates go through probate when people pass away. Probate involves proving and executing the deceased person's will if they left one. If there was no will, state intestacy laws govern estate administration.

A key part of any probate proceeding is appointing someone to wind down the deceased person's affairs. That executor or personal representative administers and distributes estate assets. If the will named someone in that role and that person or organization is willing and able to serve, the probate court issues "letters testamentary." This legal document gives the executor authority to represent the estate's interests. If there was not a valid will, the judge appoints a person or professional fiduciary and issues "letters of administration" authorizing the executor's or administrator's actions on behalf of the estate.

Executor Responsibilities

Executors do more than divide assets among beneficiaries. Depending on the size and makeup of the probate estate, the executor may wear several hats. While specific responsibilities vary depending on the estate and the state's probate rules, duties commonly include the following:

  • Locate and examine the will and trust documents, if applicable
  • Locate beneficiaries and heirs
  • Notify creditors and other interested parties
  • Pay valid debts and final expenses
  • Collect, inventory, and safeguard property
  • Appraise and value assets and tangible personal property
  • Report and pay the deceased's final income taxes
  • Determine and handle state and federal estate tax obligations, as applicable
  • Sell or transfer title to real estate, vehicles, and other assets
  • Maintain detailed records of transactions handled
  • Prepare the final accounting
  • Distribute assets and account to the court, as necessary

Inventory and Accounting Requirements

Once appointed to serve and until the estate has been fully administered and distributed, the executor is responsible for estate assets. The executor must prepare an initial inventory of assets, then she must keep detailed records of additions to the estate and expenses or other distributions.

Before distributing assets to beneficiaries, the executor must pay valid debts and expenses, subject to any exclusions provided under state probate laws. Common distributions include the deceased person's final medical expenses, the cost of burial or cremation, valid debts, income and estate taxes, accountants' and attorneys' fees, and appraisal expenses and estate sale costs. The executor must maintain receipts and related documents and provide a detailed accounting to estate beneficiaries.

In some states, the executor files the final accounting that includes all of this information with the court before finalizing probate. In other states, the executor attests to the court that he or she provided such an accounting to those entitled to receive it.

Serving as personal representative or executor comes with significant responsibilities. Missteps, whether inadvertent or not, could lead to potentially costly delays and problems. Even if you think your loved one's estate is relatively simple, there can be value in getting professional advice. You may want to consider working with an online service provider who can advise you on estate accounting and other administration matters. Alternatively, you may want to hire an estate attorney for assistance.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.