Instructions for Executors of Wills

By Laura Wallace Henderson

Your appointment to serve as the executor of a will entails important responsibilities. This election means the deceased person has entrusted you with the task of carrying out certain legal actions. You may wish to consult an attorney, at the expense of the estate, to guide you through this process. An attorney can help you understand the laws that govern your appointment and responsibilities.


Wills provide a written record of the decedent’s wishes regarding the division of assets, as well as outlining methods of providing for the physical and financial guardianship roles of any minor children. This written instrument also appoints an individual or an entity to act on behalf of the decedent, directing them to carry out the instructions in the will.


The executor’s responsibilities may vary depending on state regulations, the decedent’s wishes and the court’s rulings. Basic responsibilities normally include obtaining a copy of the latest will, filing a petition with the court to admit the written will to probate, collecting the decedent’s assets, obtaining access to any safe deposit boxes, filing the decedent’s income tax returns and paying any valid claims against the estate. Some situations may also require the named executor to safeguard business interests, collect life insurance proceeds, inventory real estate deeds and provide management for any rental properties.

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In addition to the will, the decedent may leave a list of instructions directed to the executor of the estate. This provides an outline of the decedent’s personal wishes regarding issues not covered in the will. The list of instructions may include specific division of assets, and allotting certain items to individual beneficiaries such as children and charities. The list may also include the preferred method of burial and funeral instructions. Although the list of instructions may not be part of the legal document, it provides directions to the executor regarding the final wishes of the decedent.


The executor must file various documents with the court during the probate procedures, depending on individual state requirements. After performing all the required actions, the executor files an affidavit with the court, closing the probate. This action provides a legal notification that the executor’s responsibilities and the estate settlements are complete.

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What to Do With a Will After a Death


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The executor of a will is responsible for settling all matters relating to an estate after the testator's death. Because this job is highly time-consuming and carries great responsibility, select your executor with care. Discuss the role with your choice before officially naming him in your will, and make sure that he feels qualified to handle the task. You may also want to name an additional executor in your will in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to perform his duties.

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