Duties for a Co-Executor of a Will

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Duties for a Co-Executor of a Will

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

When a person dies leaving behind a last will and testament, they typically name an executor who is responsible for administering the deceased individual's estate and distributing their assets according to the terms of the document. The testator, or the person who created the will, can name more than one person to serve this duty. When more than one person serves as executor in a person's will, they are co-executors. All co-executors share the same authority and responsibilities over the administration of the estate. As such, a court can hold them all liable as a group if they fail to live up to the duties placed upon them.

Man leafing through folders and gazing out window

Filing the Will and Petition for Probate

Before paying any of the estate's debts or distributing assets, the co-executors must file the will with the probate court. After they file the document, it becomes a matter of public record. Typically accompanying the will is a petition for probate, which formally asks the court to begin the probate process.

If the will names co-executors and stipulates that they must act together, each co-executor must sign the petition. A co-executor can voluntarily cede their authority as co-executor by filing a signed renunciation of the duties in probate court. If one of the executors gives up their duty, the remaining executor applies for authority alone.

Administering the Estate

Once the probate process begins, the co-executors are jointly responsible for overseeing the administration and distribution of the estate. They must identify, collect, and inventory all assets, including but not limited to personal property, deeds, and bank or investment accounts, and then preserve and protect them until distribution occurs.

Co-executors can be liable for any damage to or loss of an asset that was not secured but would have benefited an heir or beneficiary. For instance, if the home of the deceased goes into foreclosure because the executors did not pay the mortgage, the court could find them liable.

Paying Outstanding Debts and Distributing Assets

After the co-executors collect the deceased individual's assets, they must pay off any remaining debt, including bills, funeral expenses, and medical costs, using the assets. If the deceased did not have sufficient funds to pay off all debts, the co-executors must liquidate other assets in order to satisfy the debts.

Co-executors have the right to contest any claim by a creditor against the estate in court. They must also pay the deceased's final tax return, as well as any estate tax owed to federal or state taxing authorities.

After the co-executors pay all outstanding debts, they must distribute the remaining assets according to the terms of the will. They must also obtain proof that the correct heir or beneficiary received the asset given to them in the will. Typically, a signed release from each recipient is sufficient evidence of the transfer.

Monitoring the Other Co-Executor

Each co-executor has a responsibility to manage the estate properly and in a timely manner. If a co-executor is uncooperative or mishandles the estate's assets, the remaining co-executor can go to the probate court and have their actions evaluated. If one co-executor fails to intervene in the case of the other negligent co-executor, a court can hold both executors personally liable for any resulting damage.

Navigating the probate process can be complex and time consuming. If you anticipate being named an executor or co-executor in a loved one's will, gain familiarity with the responsibilities involved early so that you can be prepared when the time comes.

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