The Executor’s Role in an Estate

You’ve been chosen as the executor for your parents’ estate, or you’ve selected the executor for your estate.  What does the executor do?

First, the executor must follow the provisions of the will, which is called fiduciary duty.  This is a legal relationship between two parties, bearing the highest standard of care by the executor to the person who requested him/her.  The executor cannot do what he or she wants to do, since the court oversees and must approve of the actions of the executor.

Second, the executor has to complete all the responsibilities of his/her role.  Even if you are disappointed that your sister was chosen as the executor instead of you, maybe you should be thankful.  Being named an executor carries huge responsibilities that cannot be ignored or shirked.  The best thing you can do, if you are not the executor, is to support the person who is!

Next, the executor has the responsibility to secure any valuable belongings, including the house, until they are distributed.  Locks should be changed immediately on the house, garage, and any outbuildings or storage units.  If there are valuables, like jewelry, that should be protected further, the executor may remove those from the house for temporary storage.  In both cases, all heirs should be notified of the changed locks and the offsite storage of valuables.  Everything should be documented.

Further, the executor should locate all important papers, including the will, financial records, master list (if one exists), and important contact information.  These contacts would include the estate attorney and financial planner or accountant.

Finally, the executor handles the equitable (hopefully!) distribution of the decedent’s assets, according to their stated wishes.  This involves much communication, promoting harmony between heirs, and navigating the minefields of relational issues that creep into this process.

Appreciate the executor of your estate, and prepare as much as you can in advance.  There is no substitute for good records and good communication!

© 2010 Julie Hall

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