EXECUTOR OF ESTATE: What They Can & Cannot Do

executor of an estate

Writing a final will and testament, appointing a power of attorney, and setting healthcare directives are all part of proper estate preparation. Creating a personalized estate plan also includes naming an executor of an estate.
An executor of an estate, often known as a will executor, is the person in charge of carrying out the wishes expressed in a will. Find out what an executor performs, how to appoint one, and why they’re necessary.

Who Is an Executor of Estate?

An executor of an estate is a person or institution designated to run a deceased person’s financial affairs and intentions in accordance with their will. An executor of an estate is also known as a personal representative or administrator in some areas. An executor’s principal role is to transfer assets to the intended beneficiaries while acting in the best interests of the estate.

Who Can Be a Will’s Executor?

Will executors are often named by the deceased in their will. If the deceased did not leave a will, or if the will is declared invalid, a probate court can appoint one. An executor of an estate is typically a family member, although it can also be a close friend, lawyer, accountant, or financial institution. In some situations, the deceased might name multiple executors, known as co-executors. An executor can also be a beneficiary in most states.

What are the Duties of an Executor of an Estate?

An executor of an estate is accountable for following the deceased’s intentions. The executor has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.

#1. Obtains a Death Certificate

The initial step is to obtain a death certificate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a useful tool to assist you in determining where you may obtain this document in your state.

When you get the certificate, request at least a dozen copies. Many acts, such as shutting bank accounts or submitting life insurance claims, may require a certified death certificate.

#2. Makes a copy of the will and submits it to the Probate Court.

You must file a copy of the will with the county probate court as the executor. If you are listed as the executor of the estate in the will, the court will officially appoint you as the executor.
A copy of the will serves as a road map for the executor. If you are unsure where the will is, ask family members or the lawyer who prepared it. Finding this paperwork is critical since it determines who will inherit the property.

#3. Notifies government agencies, banks, and others of the death of the decedent.

The executor is responsible for informing creditors, beneficiaries, and heirs of the deceased’s death. In addition to notifying these parties, you must also notify the federal government in order to discontinue any government benefits.

You must notify the United States. Mail will be forwarded to your address by the Postal Service. To cancel the deceased’s driver’s license, you must contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. Banks must be notified in order to close any accounts, and insurance firms must be notified in order to terminate any current policies.

In addition to canceling any bills and subscriptions, you should notify the major credit bureaus (Equifax®, ExperianTM, and TransUnion®) and request that a death notification be added to the deceased’s credit record. Be prepared to present a verified death certificate at any time during this process.

#4. Selects the type of probate required

To distribute a deceased person’s assets, the probate court follows state rules. If an estate does not have a will, the probate court will appoint an administrator, who will have the same responsibilities as an executor.

The probate process can be lengthy, especially for complex estates. However, several states have inheritance laws that allow property to be transferred without going through probate court. For example, if a bank account has a specified beneficiary, assets can be transferred without going through the probate process.

#5. He appears in court to represent the estate.

An executor may be required to appear in court to represent the estate in specific instances. The probate process will be able to continue with you as an executor if you file an initial proceeding.
If there is disagreement among heirs during the procedure, you may find yourself back in court to settle the differences before a judge. Finally, you must appear at the closing sessions to complete the process.

#6. Establishes an Estate Bank Account

For the probate process, it’s a good idea to open an estate bank account. This account can be used to pay all bills and debts. As executor, you must make certain that bills, such as mortgage or insurance premiums, are paid until the estate is settled.

#7. Files a list of the estate’s assets.

In many states, the executor is required to file an inventory of the estate’s assets and liabilities with the probate court. This provides the court with an accurate picture of what the dead left behind. With that information, the court can properly distribute the assets.

#8. Keeps the property until it is distributed or sold.

Any property included in the estate must be kept by the executor until it is divided or sold. Furthermore, any personal property included in the estate must be located and properly stored until distribution.

#9. Pays any remaining estate debts and taxes

As previously stated, the executor must settle any estate taxes or debts before asset distribution may commence. In some circumstances, this entails filing an estate income tax return. Consider working with a tax professional to find the most effective options for your situation as you negotiate the tax duties of an estate.

#10. Distributes the Assets

Finally, the assets should be distributed to the beneficiaries as specified in the will. In some circumstances, you will need to obtain written approval from the court before proceeding.
Collect paperwork from recipients that acknowledge they have possession of their inheritance as you distribute assets.

What Can’t An Estate Executor Do?

An executor is responsible for carrying out the intentions of the deceased. What they cannot do is:

#1. Execute the Will Before the Decedent Dies

The executor has no legal authority over the estate until the decedent passes away. It is crucial to wait until the maker of the will has died before attempting to touch the estate in any way.
Before the estate is approved by the court, it must be managed.

Obtaining court clearance to handle the estate is the first stage in closing the estate. Many financial institutions will deny you access to a deceased person’s assets if you do not have this legal authorization.

#2. Fill Out An Unsigned Will

You cannot sign an unsigned will if the deceased leaves one. Wills are only legally binding if the deceased sign them before death. In the absence of a formal will, state rules will govern what happens to the estate’s assets.

#3. Change the terms of the will or the beneficiaries

Executors do not have the authority to alter the terms of the will or the beneficiaries named in it. Instead, you’ll need to carry out the deceased’s desires as indicated in the will.

Helpful Tips on Choosing an Executor of Estate

You can appoint anybody you wish as an executor. However, that person must meet the requirements of the state. For example, you cannot appoint a convicted felon or a juvenile as executor.

Many people choose intimate friends or family members. However, employing an expert is another viable option. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when selecting an executor:

  • Find a responsible individual: An executor must keep track of legal procedures and financial facts. It is vital to locate a responsible individual with whom you have faith to carry out your objectives.
  • Ensure that your executor is financially secure and in good credit standing: An executor must have sufficient personal resources. Many courts will not allow your candidate to act as executor if they have several creditors or liens against them.
  • Choose someone who can be objective: Fulfilling your desires is an emotional process. The right executor can make impartial judgments on your behalf and for your heirs.
  • Choose a younger successor: Choosing an executor who will most likely survive you is a wise decision.
  • Don’t choose an ineligible executor: Most state courts will not accept children or convicted felons as executors. Check your state’s requirements to ensure you choose a qualified person.

How to Become an Estate Executor

There are two paths you might take if you wish to become an estate executor.
You will submit a copy of the will with the court for those specified as executors in the will. If you match the state’s standards for an executor, you’ll almost certainly get official clearance.

If you were not designated as the executor in the will, you must get a letter of administration from the probate court in your state. The court will inquire about you and the deceased. The court may designate you as executor in various instances. However, in some situations, you will be passed over for another candidate.

When Do the Duties of the Executor of an Estate Begin, and What is the Timetable?

Estates can take six to 18 months to settle, and the executor is involved at every step of the way (we weren’t joking when we said it was a major job). Here’s a general timeline of what you may expect to undertake as an estate executor.

Week 1

The week following a person’s death is filled with practical duties.

  • Notify family: Notifying family, close friends, and any active employers of the death is one of the first things you’ll do.
  • Secure the estate: This includes locking the doors to the home if one exists. Place any valuables in a secure location. Get the mail on a regular basis. Cancel any subscriptions or services, such as housekeeping or meal delivery. If necessary, make arrangements for pet and lawn care.
  • Arrange the funeral: While this is not the executor’s legal role, it may fall to you to organize and delegate decisions regarding the deceased’s funeral service. If someone else is prepared to take on this obligation, it’s probably a good idea to delegate it to them. You’ll have a lot of other things to do.
  • Locate the will: You’ll also need to locate the will. Hopefully, the decedent granted you access to a copy (maybe in a legacy drawer) and directed you to the original. However, if they did not, there are a few areas you can look at. Check with any personal lawyers the decedent had, their safety deposit box, and, if your state has one, the court or register of authorized wills.

The First Three Months

This is when you truly get into the technical details.

  • File the will in court: Take that will to court! States vary in how much time you have to submit your will, although some allow as little as 10 days. This is also a good moment to consider whether you require the services of a lawyer. Examine the will and estate, and if it appears complicated, seek the assistance of a lawyer.
  • Start probating: There’s a slight chance you won’t have to, but most estates do. Typically, executors begin this process between two and three months. When it begins, you’ll receive “letters” establishing your authority to act on behalf of the estate, which you’ll need when dealing with banks, utilities, and businesses.
  • Inventory the estate: This will most likely be unpleasant, but you must inventory the estate. This includes inventorying everything the dead had, including physical assets as well as anything that can’t be stored in the attic, such as stocks. This includes identifying any outstanding debts, such as mortgages or loans. Sometimes assets are difficult to locate. Depending on the size of the estate, it could take months to locate and claim everything.
  • Maintain estate: In addition to taking care of all those jobs, you’ll need to keep everything functioning well. If the dead have a business, you must maintain its functioning. You’ll need to keep their residence in good condition and pay their utility bills, among other things. And it’s your responsibility to keep the house or any other empty property secure.
Read Also: WHAT IS SOCIAL SECURITY? Benefits, Taxes, and Retirement Tips
  • Cancel life services, such as the descendant’s phone and internet service.
  • Notify Social Security: Inform Social Security that the descendant has died and return any checks received after the date of death unless there is a living spouse. If that’s the case, notify Social Security and the benefits will be directed to the surviving spouse.
  • Notify others: Notify any life insurance companies and account managers for IRAs, 401(k)s, and other retirement accounts that the decedent has died.
  • Obtain an EIN: Every estate requires an identification number, the same as how people have Social Security numbers. The government has declared that estates must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN). We don’t understand either. However, you must obtain one for the estate.
  • Open an estate bank account: You can’t just go about writing checks for the deceased—that would check fraud. To register a bank account solely for conducting estate business.
  • Notify beneficiaries: This will not be enjoyable—not that anything else on this list has been. However, you must notify the people named in the will (or, if there was no will, those determined by the state to be entitled to inherit) that the deceased has died and that they will receive an inheritance.
  • Notify the public: Place a death notice in the local newspaper. This will notify any creditors that time is running out to collect what they are owed.
  • Add up the assets: You’ll need to find out how much each asset is worth so that you can split it up equitably or according to the will. This is also important for tax purposes.

3 to 6 months

The further you get from the date of death, the more variations there will be in what still needs to be done. A lot of what you’ll need to perform after three months is simply a continuation of what you’ve been working on, such as asset location and maintenance.

Execute the asset distribution plan: Depending on the size of the estate, this could be a simple or hard operation. If the situation is particularly intricate, you may wish to consult with a lawyer. In any case, you must devise a strategy for dividing the estate and distributing money to any beneficiaries.
Selling a home or business is part of the asset distribution strategy. If no one inherits a house or business in its whole, it must be sold and the earnings shared among the heirs.
Pay debts: If the decedent owed money, it is your responsibility to pay the creditors from the estate.

6 to 12 months

  • Pay the taxes: That’s correct. The taxpayer may be dead, but the government will not let them rest until their taxes are paid. But since they’re no longer alive, you’ll be doing it for them. Depending on when the deceased died, you may need to pay taxes sooner than six to twelve months. (For example, if they died in January, you would be required to pay taxes for the first three months because federal income taxes are due in April. You’ll almost certainly have to pay three types of taxes: the decedent’s personal income taxes, annual estate income taxes (yes, the estate becomes a “person” and “owes” income taxes once the owner dies), and annual property taxes (you can skip this one if they didn’t own a house or land).

Estate and inheritance taxes are two additional taxes you may have to pay. As of 2023, federal estate taxes will only apply if the estate is valued at more than $12.92 million—congratulations to the decedent for amassing such fortune! Inheritance taxes are imposed at the state level, and only a few states have them, so check with the state where they lived to see if they apply.

  • Distribute assets: You devised a strategy and implemented it a few months ago; now it’s time to distribute inheritances to the beneficiaries.
  • Collect executor’s fees: You put in a lot of effort, and it can be a thankless profession. But not completely ungrateful. Don’t forget to take care of yourself from the estate.
  • Finalize probate: If the estate went through probate (which it most likely did), you’ll need to submit and have the court accept a Final Accounting and a Final Statement outlining what you did as executor with everything in the estate to ensure everything is in order.


If you’ve been chosen executor or are considering taking the position, it’s critical that you understand your duties and restrictions because you’ll be dealing with the very sensitive contents of a loved one’s estate. If you want to name an executor in your will, make sure you choose someone trustworthy because they will handle all estate planning and financial management after you die.


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