Executor Duties & Rights in Handling a Will

By A.L. Kennedy

The executor is the person responsible for carrying out the instructions left in a will. The executor may be named in the will itself or may be appointed by the probate court. In order to fulfill duties as executor, the executor has certain rights. These rights are bestowed by the probate court in a document known as letters testamentary, which the executor usually petitions for when the will is filed with the court.

Determine Debts

The executor is responsible for determining, as best as she can, what debts the estate owes so that they can be paid. In order to carry out this duty, the executor has the right to contact creditors that she knows or suspects are owed money, as well as the duty to publish a general notice in the newspaper or elsewhere, depending on the laws of the state, letting creditors know that they should come forward. The executor has the right to discuss financial matters with any creditor who contacts her, just like the deceased person would have.

Pay Debts

The executor has the duty to pay any debts the estate owes before the estate's assets are distributed as instructed under the will. In order to do this, the executor has the right to start a bank account from which to pay debts or to put the estate's existing bank accounts in the name of the estate so that he can pay debts from them. The executor may also liquidate any assets of the estate that are necessary to pay any remaining debts.

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Inventory Assets

In order to determine what assets the estate has, the executor is responsible for inventorying the estate's assets. In most states, the executor also has the duty to file this inventory with the probate court and give copies to the estate's beneficiaries before she begins paying the estate's debts. In order to determine what the estate has, the executor has the right to see the estate's financial records, to contact any financial planners, accountants or other professionals the deceased person relied on for financial services and to hire professional appraisers or other professionals to determine the value of certain assets, at the estate's expense.

Asset Distribution

Once all the bills are paid and the estate's final tax return is settled, the executor has the duty to distribute the remaining assets in the estate, if any, to the beneficiaries that are listed in the will, in the manner the will tells the executor to distribute them. The executor retains his right to access the estate's bank accounts, talk to financial professionals and conduct other financial business while distributing the estate.

Defending the Estate

Sometimes, an executor faces disagreements from the beneficiaries when settling an estate. If the estate's beneficiaries bring a lawsuit to settle a dispute with the executor, the executor has the right to defend herself. If a beneficiary or other interested party challenges the will, the executor has the duty to defend the will's validity, as well as the right to hire an attorney at the estate's expense to present a defense.

Compensation and Reimbursement

In most states, executors have the right to reimbursement from the estate for the necessary costs of administering the estate. These include expenses like postage, phone calls, hiring necessary professionals like accountants or appraisers and travel, if necessary. Some states also allow the executor to receive a percentage of the estate or an hourly rate as compensation for services in administering the estate, according to the American Bar Association.

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