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What Are My Duties as Executor of an Estate?

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The Executor Adviser is an advice column to help readers with questions about executorship.

You’ve just learned you have been named as executor in a will. Regardless of whether the person who named you is still alive or has passed away, there are probably hundreds of questions floating around in your head.

 What does an executor do?
 How long do I hold this role?
 What challenges will I face along the way? 
 Where can I get help?

A helpful and free website called Executor.org will walk you through this complex process from beginning to end by offering you a custom 100+ step plan of your duties. That said, let’s get a few of your most basic questions answered right now.

What does an executor do?

If you’re like many people, you’re not even sure what it means to be an executor. In basic terms, the executor is the person appointed by a will writer (testator) to execute the will and settle the estate.

But what tasks does executorship truly entail? Below is a brief overview of an executor’s basic responsibilities, in layman’s terms.

Information gathering. This may include bank statements, tax returns, and insurance policies, to name a few examples. In short, the executor is in the center of this process and has a legal responsibility to manage it fairly and well.

Asset management and protection. This means working on your own or with relevant professionals to manage the 100+ steps of the estate settlement process. Professionals are critical to the process, but remember that the more you can manage yourself, the less you’ll spend in fees. 

Asset distribution. Executors must distribute the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries according to the instructions in the decedent's will. This should be done in a way that, to the best of your abilities and within the terms of the will, keeps harmony in the remaining family.

How long do I hold this role?

The length of executorship depends on the complexity of the estate, but typically requires a year to complete the process. Getting organized, managing what you are able to manage, and being responsive to professionals can help speed up the process. Click here to get a custom list of your executor duties based on your specific situation. 

What are the challenges I will encounter along the way?

Grief. Most people who are named as executor knew the will writer well. This means you will likely be grieving when it is time to take on your executor duties. Take time to grieve and understand that grief is not something that follows a schedule or ends after a certain amount of time. 

Delays. Probate courts run at their own speed and are likely handling many other estate settlement cases in addition to yours.

Procrastination. Sometimes executors get overwhelmed and delay their responsibilities, hoping that the “to-do” list of items will somehow take care of itself. In most cases, procrastinating will only make matters worse, so try to get organized — and the sooner the better.

Conflict. An executor may have to deal with family disputes. When there is only one heirloom pocket watch, and five children want it, chances are there will be conflict — and four of the children may be unhappy. As a part of your role, you’ll want proven strategies for distributing personal property and managing the family conflict that can result.

Who can help me?

The important thing to know after learning that you’ll be an executor is that you don't have to do it alone. Your job is to manage the process — not to become an expert on every task or to handle everything on your own.

Along with utilizing online resources for executors, you will likely require the help of professionals like attorneys and financial advisors. The cost of help is typically considered an expense of the estate, so these fees are reimbursable and not yours to bear personally. You’ll want to track all of your expenses in a place like the Data Vault on Executor.org so you can be sure you’re reimbursed for all out-of-pocket costs related to the executor role.

Take comfort in the fact that the will-writer named you as executor for a reason — they believed you would do the best job possible in this complex role and trusted you to get the job done. With an organized approach, patience, and persistence, you can move through the process on a step-by-step basis and feel confident that you’re doing a great job.

Click here to get started. (It’s free and no credit card is required.)