The executor owes a fiduciary duty to the estate, which means she must act at all times make decisions in the best interest of the estate. As part of that duty, the executor may manage the assets while all the estate’s affairs are resolved. This may include managing properties the will instructed not to liquidate, or sell, which could entail making ordinary repairs and maintenance to property or taking out insurance policies in the estate’s name to protect the assets. In addition, the executor may make prudent investments with liquid assets to help the estate maximize its value during the proceedings, manage the decedent’s business affairs and collect any debts owed to the decedent. If the estate holds stock, the executor may be called upon to vote on behalf of the estate where appropriate. The executor has a duty to prosecute any outstanding claims -- like lawsuits -- the decedent had. Conversely, the executor also must defend any pending claims against the decedent.
The executor is responsible for using the estate’s assets to satisfy all of the estate’s outstanding debts. This could include performing or satisfying any outstanding contracts on behalf of the decedent. The executor may have to sell any encumbered assets to satisfy liens and avoid foreclosure or repossession. Because the executor owes a fiduciary duty, she may attempt to negotiate a compromise to satisfy debts with the least cost to the estate. The executor must also pay any and all local, state and federal taxes that the estate owes with proceeds from the estate. The executor may hire any professionals -- attorneys, financial advisers or accountants -- deemed necessary to comply with her duties.
The executor must distribute the estate’s assets pursuant to the will’s instructions and with the probate court’s supervision. When the probate proceeding begins, the court orders all known potential claimants that they must make a claim against the estate before the expiration of a six-month period. The executor has the authority to evaluate the claims consistent with the will and distribute assets to valid claim. This process may involve the decedent’s heirs as well as the decedent’s creditors.
Prior to settling any claims, the executor must inventory the estate and have an appraisal of the estate’s value done. Then he must file the inventory and appraisal with the court. The executor must also keep records for all of the estate’s transactions and provide an accounting to the court.