What is an Executor?

who is the executor in estate planningAn Executor, also known as a Personal Representative, is an individual or institution designated to administer the estate of a decedent (a person who has passed away). The Executor is responsible for settling and distributing the decedent’s estate as efficiently as possible by following the instructions contained the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If the decedent does not have a Will, the probate court will name an Executor who must then settle and distribute the estate according to state guidelines.

Key Duties of an Executor

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the decedent had a valid Will and named an Executor. In this case, the Executor’s primary duty is to settle the estate according to the decedent’s wishes as outlined in the Will. This may sound simple enough, but settling an estate is no easy matter. While every estate is unique, here is a partial list of the duties required to settle a “typical” estate:

  • Locate and file the Last Will and Testament with the local court
  • File required probate documents with the court
  • Locate, inventory, custody, close and transfer personal assets/accounts
  • Appraise and value all assets
  • Pay debts and expenses associated with the last illness and funeral
  • Ascertain, and notify, all known creditors of the estate
  • Make payments to creditors, discharge obligations, and obtain creditor releases
  • Process and receive life insurance death benefits
  • Secure the decedent’s personal residence and tangible personal property
  • File appropriate tax returns (federal and state) and make appropriate tax elections
  • Pay estate taxes and final personal income taxes
  • Obtain tax releases and closing letters from local courts, the IRS, and state taxing authorities
  • Make specific bequests, as well as partial and final distributions, to beneficiaries
  • Provide complete, detailed accounting to the local court and estate beneficiaries

As you can imagine, accomplishing all of this takes a great deal of time. It is also important to note that if an Executor fails to follow the Will’s instructions to the letter, he or she can be sued for what is called breach of fiduciary duty—even if the errors were unintentional.

Secure the Help of an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer

If you are asked to serve as Executor, do not take the decision lightly. Similarly, if you are thinking about who should serve as your Executor after you pass away, you should only choose someone capable of handling the many duties required. Settling a loved one’s estate while in mourning can be overwhelming and require the execution of duties you may not be familiar dealing with.

If you have been named as Executor and are faced with the prospect of administering an estate, we can guide you through every step of the process. You are not alone during this challenging time. We invite you to contact us at your earliest convenience for a personal meeting with our estate administration attorney serving the District of Columbia and Maryland area.