What is an executor of estate?
An executor is the person responsible for administering an estate for a deceased loved one, according to that person’s wishes, as stated in their will. The executor holds a temporary legal title to the estate property. However, they are not allowed to use the title or property for their own benefit, unless the will specifically states that they are allowed to.
In short, they do not suddenly own the estate. They simply must look after it.
Being responsible for carrying out a deceased person’s last wishes is a heavy task. It’s big role that asks a lot of a grieving person. However, it is also a job that comes with an incredible amount of trust and honor. Your loved one, be it a family member or a close friend, trusted you to give closure to the rest of their family members and their finances.
So, if you are chosen as an executor, fall back on the truth of this sentiment to get you through any turbulent times ahead.
What if you don’t want to be an executor?
If a family or friend asks you to become their executor before their death, you do not have to accept. Whatever your reasons for wanting to decline, let your loved one know firmly but gently and help them to find alternative assistance.
If, however, you feel like refusing because you are not qualified, know this: There are very few legal qualifications required to be an executor. You really only need a love for the deceased and a great amount of patience.
Here are the legal requirements:
- at least 18 years old
- mentally competent
- not a felon
If you accept the role, and for any reason after their passing feel unable to complete your duties, you can renounce your role. If there are multiple executors, for example a group of siblings, then they can continue to perform the tasks required. They would simply move forward without your input.
If you were the sole executor, the court will appoint the named back-up executor. If the deceased did not name a back-up, then the probate court will appoint someone who is appropriate. This is typically another close relative of the deceased. In this case, the appointed person is not called an executor, but rather a personal administrator or an estate administrator.
Duties of an Executor of Estate
Here is what you typically need to accomplish as the executor of an estate:
- Obtain a copy of the death certificate.
- Gather copies of the deceased’s most recent will, trusts, deeds, and titles.
- Check with the probate court to make sure the will is legal and valid.
- Look out for any special taxes on the estate, like capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, and property taxes.
- Inform the deceased’s lenders (banks and credit companies) of the death.
- Settle all of the deceased’s debts, using the estate if needed.
- Collect all debts owed to the deceased.
- Organize all of the deceased’s assets according to their wishes.
- This could mean selling or renting out houses, vacation homes, rental properties, and businesses.
- Locate and inventory everything of value inside the estate so they are ready for the inheritors and be protected during probate.
- Collect all life insurance proceeds payable to the deceased and distribute as needed.
- Distribute assets and personal property as mandated.
As you can see, this is a lot of responsibility.
This is why many states have requirements that executors receive compensation for their time. Even if you do not receive money, and are acting out of familial affection, it is best to hire an estate-planning attorney to ensure you can properly complete each step in the process.
Remember: An executor of estate is not the same thing as power of attorney. An executor can only act according to the deceased’s wishes after their death. They cannot alter the estate plan in any way.
If someone has power of attorney, it means that they can make legal choices for a person while they are still alive.
What information does an executor of an estate need?
In order to successfully complete your duties as executor of estate, you need to know all of the deceased’s personal details.
You need to know their bank account information. You need to know how to access their safe deposit box. You also need their credit card information so you can cancel the cards in their name.
You need information on their tax returns as income taxes, as well as where they keep all of their filing. This filing should also have information and legal documents for you, like titles, deeds, and cards from the Social Security Administration.
Finally, you need access to their social media and other account passwords, so that you can shut down accounts as necessary.
Can you benefit from a will as the executor?
Yes, you can benefit from a will and still act as its executor. An estate plan is a binding legal document. Just because you are the one reading it out does not mean that you won’t be able to receive your grandmother’s pearl earrings as promised or shares in your sister’s business.
But, as mentioned, being an executor of estate is so much more than reading out the will. Essentially, you are responsible for ensuring that your loved one does not leave behind any unfinished business on this earth. You can tie up all of their loose strings by paying their debts and collecting others owe through canceling their accounts and distributing their assets.
Finally, you can ensure that their funeral is a true celebration of their life.
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