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What does the executor of an estate do?

After the death of a loved one, the process of winding up their estate is an eventuality that cannot be avoided. This task will fall upon an executor of the deceased's last will and testament. Usually, this onus falls upon a close family member who may be a spouse, child or immediate relative.

In the event that the deceased was intestate, without a will, or the mandated executor declines, a court can assign a suitable person to carry out the duties of an executor. In this case, this person is referred to as an administrator.

Who can be named as the executor?

There is no specific qualification for one to become an executor of estate. What is paramount is that honesty and integrity is maintained at the highest levels possible. Besides, the executor is permitted to seek the services of the required experts to help in the execution, such as lawyers and accountants, at the expense of the estate depending on the complexity of the matters pertaining.

The roles and responsibilities of the executor

The executor will need to know basic information about the deceased, their family members, properties and business relationships of the deceased, financial institutions that were custodians of financial instruments and life insurance policies.

The executor of the estate will be responsible for the following:

  • Locate the last valid will and testament of the deceased. Ideally, this should be the latest version and there should be no other subsequent wills that may supersede it.
  • File the will in a probate court. This allows them to effect the conditions of the will and reduces the possibility of future contestations.
  • Identify and ascertain the assets and liabilities of the deceased. These may be in the form of cash, safety deposit boxes, shares, property, royalties, etc.
  • Locate and inform the inheritors and beneficiaries of the will. These may or may not be limited to immediate family members. They may include other dependents and trusts named in the will.
  • Notify the relevant authorities of the death. These may include tax authorities, credit card companies, mortgage lenders and life insurance companies.
  • Set up a trust or account through which proceeds and payments to and from the estate are managed, if stipulated in the estate plan. This is advisable in the interest of accountability. It should be kept in mind that such records are usually required to be kept and submitted to the probate court.
  • Finalize and wrap up the affairs of the deceased with an aim to liquidation or distribution of the balance according to the terms of the will. This will involve collecting any amounts due to them such as outstanding debtors, unpaid dividends and rent. Likewise, the payment of outstanding debts to creditors such as tax authorities should be paid.
  • Distribute the remaining funds and properties to beneficiaries according to the will. In some cases, properties or funds may not be liquidated. In such an eventuality, a trust fund may be set up for future reconsideration of liquidation, or the existing prevailing laws may apply.

This is not an exhaustive list and every estate will be different. However, this list forms a good basis for which any person entrusted to execute a will may use as a guide as to what would be expected of them, and the basic facts that they will need to establish to properly execute their responsibilities as executors of estate.

This is not an exhaustive list. However, it can help executors understand the basics of what they are expected to do and accomplish. It is beneficial to consult an estate planning attorney to fully understand your roles and responsibilities if you have been named as the executor of an estate.

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