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What Does It Mean to Be an Executor?

To act as an executor means no more and no less than to take responsibility for wrapping up the entirety of someone’s earthly affairs. Needless to say, it’s an unbelievably important task, and one that may be quite simple and streamlined, or rather complex and tedious, depending on the situation.

In any case, it’s important to understand exactly what it means to be entrusted with the responsibilities of an executor, so that you can carry out this important task to the best of your ability – or make sure that it ends up in the care of someone who can.

So, what exactly does it mean to be an executor of an estate? Here’s a quick guide to the who, what, when, and how of being an executor. 

What Is An Executor? How Are They Named?

Throughout this article, we’ll use the broad term “executor” as a catch-all wherever possible. Being named as an executor could in fact refer to taking on one of several different (albeit fundamentally connected, roles) including “executor of a will,” “executor of an estate,” “personal representative,” or “estate administrator.”

Different circumstances will dictate exactly what duties an executor is tasked with, but the essence of the role is always the same (even though laws do vary from state to state). In all cases, it is the responsibility of the executor to manage the estate of the decedent, a job that will necessarily include protecting a deceased person's property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and subsequently seeing that the remaining assets are transferred to the proper parties in a timely fashion.

In many cases, the executor will be named in the decedent’s will. If no executor is named, or if there is no will, an executor will be appointed by a probate court.

Even if you are named specifically in the will as an executor, you do not have to accept the responsibility, and can resign from the position at any time.

It’s important that you’re realistic and upfront with yourself about what you’re willing to undertake before accepting the responsibility of acting as an executor; once named, an executor has a fiduciary duty to uphold, meaning that the individual’s scruples, loyalty, diligence, and good faith will be held to a high (and enforceable) standard.

Whether named by a court or designated by the decedent, an executor is not required to be legal or financial professional, but he or she will be expected to handle all of their duties with honesty, integrity, and care.

What Does an Executor Do?

As we’ve noted already, the main duties of the executor are to sort through the finances of the deceased, handle all debts and taxes, and, most importantly perhaps, ensure that remaining money or property is distributed according to the wishes of the decedent.

In the course of ther duties, most executors will need to take on some or all of the following common tasks:

  • Finding and managing the deceased person’s personal property and other assets, and managing them until they are distributed to inheritors
  • Notifying banks, credit companies, and government agencies of the decedent’s passing
  • Filing the deceased’s will in probate court
  • Determining if probate court proceedings are needed (and, if so, what type of probate process will be necessary)
  • Setting up a bank account for the estate (which is necessary for collecting money owed to the deceased person, paying out debts that the deceased owes, and keeping the estate’s money entirely separate from their own funds)
  • Handling all day-to-day payments and continuing expenses for as long as necessary (such as mortgage, utility, or insurance payments, which will need to be managed while the will is being administered)
  • Paying final income taxes, and paying off the decedent’s debts and creditors
  • Handling the distribution of assets in line with the deceased person’s wishes according to their will (or else passed according to state law)
  • Disposing of the property left after paying off the estate’s debts and distribution to heirs/beneficiaries
  • Representing the estate in court, when necessary

The process for every executor will be slightly different, just as every estate is as unique as the individual leaving it behind. Estates will vary in complexity and size, and so the job of the executor may well be simple and straightforward, or complex and time-consuming.

In any case, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting into before accepting the responsibility. And it’s important to know too that, should you be named as an executor, you don’t need to go it alone. In many cases, an executor may use estate money to hire professionals – such as attorneys, accountants, appraisals, or real estate professionals – to help administer the decedent’s estate.

Have you been named an executor of an estate? Chicago Probate Law would be happy to help you navigate these complex, time-consuming duties with compassion and attention to detail.

Focusing on estate planning now? We’re here to assist with that, too! By taking on the vital step of planning ahead, you will be simplifying the process for your loved ones and lowering the fees that might be associated with probate and estate administration down the line. We would be happy to guide and assist you at every step of planning your estate, and we can offer insight and guidance on matters including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

Ready to get started? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

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