The executor of a will has the main responsibility to ensure that the instructions in the will are carried out as written. To do this, the executor works with the probate court. Although all U.S. states allow an executor or personal representative to work with the probate court without an attorney, an attorney can be helpful, especially if probate is complicated or a will contest erupts.
The executor, also known as the personal representative, is responsible for fulfilling the provisions in the will and also for reporting to the probate court, according to FindLaw. Typical executor duties include informing the beneficiaries listed in the will of the death and the probate process, finding the deceased person's creditors, paying the bills, and giving the beneficiaries the property the will leaves for them. The executor may work with the probate court alone or may hire an attorney to help him.
The executor or personal representative of the estate is responsible for defending the will if someone files a will contest or will challenge, according to FindLaw. Usually, a will contest argues that the will is not valid because the person who made it lacked the mental capacity or was coerced into writing the will differently than she had originally planned, according to FindLaw. Because will contests can involve complicated questions of estate law, most executors facing one will hire an attorney at the estate's expense to defend the will. However, an executor may proceed without an attorney in most states if she believes it's in the estate's best interest to do so or the estate cannot afford an attorney, according to FindLaw.
Preparing an Inventory
In addition to hiring an attorney, an executor may benefit from hiring other professionals to help him probate the will, although he is not required to do so. For instance, in most states, the executor must make an inventory of the estate and file a copy with the probate court, according to the American Bar Association. The executor is usually allowed to use his own research on the fair market value of each item to make the inventory. However, if the estate contains rare, valuable or baffling pieces, the executor may hire a professional appraiser, usually at the estate's expense, to get a more accurate determination of the property's fair market value, according to FindLaw.
Accounts and Taxes
The executor also has the main responsibility to settle any outstanding debts the estate has, make an accounting of the estate's assets and liabilities, and file its final tax return, according to FindLaw. The executor does not have to hire an attorney, accountant or other professional to help her do this. However, estates that have significant assets or debts or that have a highly diversified portfolio may benefit from the help of a financial professional. Since the executor has a responsibility to act in the best interests of the estate, she should consider hiring an accountant when necessary, according to FindLaw.