The executor is a vital figure after the passing of the testator (the individual to whom the will refers), taking on the tasks of tracking assets, paying creditors, and ensuring that the beneficiaries named in the will receive the assets they are entitled to. The primary purpose of an executor, also known as a personal representative, is to liquidate the estate of a deceased person. The executor must pay all debts and taxes owed by the deceased and then make sure that what is left is in the legitimate hands of those specified in the will. Generally, the executor must submit the will and death certificate to the local county probate court within a few days or a month after the testator's death. Throughout the probate process, the executor is responsible for preserving assets, managing daily expenses, and paying debts and taxes, all of which require money.
Executors have a variety of duties, depending on the complexity of the deceased person's financial and family circumstances. If the decedent had a limited number of assets, then the executor could resolve everything through a small affidavit of inheritance. As an executor of the estate, you may end up paying some expenses (such as travel expenses) out of pocket. Another task for the executor is to identify all beneficiaries, which can be difficult in today's highly mobile society, where there are often multiple marriages and even separated children. It is legally binding for an executor to follow the terms of the will and, if they don't, beneficiaries can take legal action to remove them and file a petition against what they consider to be misconduct.
One of the biggest drawbacks of being an executor is how much time it takes to properly manage responsibilities. Many executors perform their duties without compensation, especially if they are one of the beneficiaries of the estate. Although state laws provide for payment to executors, since many are close family members, they often do not ask for compensation. During your estate planning process, you can help facilitate things for your executor by showing them the will in advance. Additionally, it is up to them to make sure that all personal assets in the estate are found and protected until distribution.
Being an executor is a huge responsibility and potential burden, especially if there is a large estate or many beneficiaries. The executor may also need to file a decedent's income tax return until their time of death and pay any unpaid taxes.