Steps for an Executor of a Will

By Laura Myers

An executor is nominated in a will to carry out the testator’s instructions. He is responsible for ensuring that the terms of the will are complied with and that all legal requirements are met. The executor, therefore, has numerous financial and administrative tasks. Knowing the steps to follow will help you carry out your tasks in an organized way. Each state has its own laws with respect to wills and estates, however, so it is essential to understand the particular laws of your state.

Funeral and Starting Probate

After the death of the testator, you must obtain a death certificate and make funeral arrangements per the terms of the will. You should be prepared to oversee and pay funeral expenses out of the assets of the estate. You will probably also be required to post a legal notice in a newspaper to notify creditors. According to the University of Maryland University College, you must initiate probate and file a petition for letters testamentary. Letters testamentary will empower you to perform your legal duties as an executor. You will also be required to write letters to all creditors as well as beneficiaries and others who may have a legal interest in the estate. Examples of others who may have an interest could be an estranged spouse or a child of the testator who is not mentioned in the will. You are obliged to file copies of these letters in the probate court.


The executor must prepare a complete inventory and appraisal of the estate’s assets. Assets include, but are not limited to, bank accounts, investment accounts, bonds, the decedent’s final paycheck, stock brokerage accounts and any money that was owed to the decedent or payable to the estate. You may need to hire professional appraisers to place a value on certain assets such as valuable collections, jewelry or real estate. The inventory and appraisals must be filed in the probate court.

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As executor you are responsible to pay all of the legitimate debts of the estate. The American Bar Association warns that you must either make arrangements with creditors or pay the debts on time so the estate will not be required to pay penalties. You could be held personally liable if the estate loses money due to your lack of diligence. You must pay any taxes that are owed by the estate, and each state has its own rules concerning these taxes. To be able to pay everything in an organized manner, the University of Virginia advises that you should open a checking account for the estate.

Beneficiaries and Closing

After all legitimate debts and expenses are paid, a waiting period must usually elapse before the remainder of the estate can be distributed. Once this waiting time is over, you will normally be able to transfer bequests to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will. Your final responsibility is to close the estate. New York Life advises that you will probably be required to prepare a closing statement that includes an accounting of all the financial and property transactions you have made.

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Duties of a Will Executor


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Does the Executor Have Authority Over the Will?

An executor is the person named in a will to administer the estate of the person who died. The executor may be a bank or trust company instead of an individual. While state law varies as to the exact duties of an executor, in general all executors must gather the estate's assets, pay creditors, then distribute remaining estate assets in accordance with the will's directives, without any discretion to deviate from the will except in limited circumstances.

How Much Do I Pay an Executor of a Will?

An executor of a will generally receives compensation for his work. Each state has laws that govern how an executor is paid. The executor is paid out of the probate estate, rather than from the pockets of the beneficiaries, and may be paid a percentage of the estate, a flat fee or a hourly rate, depending on state law.

Checklist for the Executor of a Will

Don’t become overwhelmed by the tasks involved in probating a will. You can often minimize the stress associated with performing your executor duties by staying organized and creating a checklist. Follow your checklist to confirm that you have performed each step of the probate process. However, in some cases it may be a good idea to retain a professional to assist you with your duties.

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