Wills are important legal documents that serve as the keystone of a person’s estate plan. To make sure the terms of a will are carried out exactly as desired, the person who has created and executed a will (also known as the testator) appoints a trusted person (popularly known as the executor, or now more formally, as the personal representative) to manage and distribute the testator’s property following their death. While serving as an executor of a will is an honor and a privilege, there is also an extensive set of responsibilities that come with it. If you’ve just become an executor, or you will be in the future, here’s an introductory guide to what your obligations might be and how to prepare.
What Do Executors Do?
On a basic level, the executor makes sure that the testator’s outstanding debts and taxes are paid, and that the remaining assets are given out per the terms of the will. But there are other responsibilities that come with being an executor, such as notifying financial institutions and government agencies of the testator’s death, and managing assets such as real estate and stock so they do not lose value after the testator’s death.
An executor must file the will with their local probate court. Sometimes, assets can be passed on without court supervision. But the probate process may be a necessary step for executors who are looking to officially determine the will’s validity, change the ownership of the deceased’s property or even pay the deceased’s creditors or taxes. This means an executor might have to appear in court as a representative of the estate, sometimes to defend the executor’s decisions and actions.
If the deceased is owed money, it is the executor’s responsibility to create a bank account to receive these funds. Similarly, the executor must pay any ongoing bills left after the testator’s death. If the deceased has property, the executor must maintain it until it’s sold. With an overwhelming number of responsibilities at hand, it is wise for an executor to hire a lawyer for help with legal issues like filing court forms and estate tax returns.
Preparing to Become an Executor
Of course, a person named as an executor can decline that responsibility. But if you’ve agreed to serve in this important role, there are preparations you can take right now that will help streamline the process.
The first step an executor to-be should take is to locate the whereabouts of every important document they may need. These documents can include, but are not limited to:
- A copy of the will
- Insurance policies
- Critical bank information
- Income tax returns
If possible, an executor should ask the testator to state preferences for their funeral or other matters in the testator’s signed documents. They also can collaborate on a list of a testator’s possessions and determine which beneficiaries will get what.
We Can Help
Feeling overwhelmed with all the legal responsibilities you hold as an executor and need representation? Looking to write and execute a will for the very first time? Our experienced team will work alongside you to help you make sense of the complex legal landscape that is estate planning. Reach out to us online or give us a call at 413-737-1131 today.