Responsibilities of Executors: What You Need to Know


Have you been designated as an executor of a will or estate? Wondering what your responsibilities entail? Thinking you’ll be an executor in the future? This is a must read for those of you who might become an executor.

It is both an honor and a burden to be an executor. It requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. Let’s start by clarifying exactly what an executor does.

What Does an Executor Do?

In short, an executor is someone who is charged with the responsibilities of handling someone’s earthly affairs – not always an easy task.

The executor is someone who is named by the maker of a will (the person who has deceased). They are trusted to handle a variety of tasks and make sure that assets such as investments, property, and cash get distributed to those named on the will.

What Specific Responsibilities Do Executors Have?

There are several. Keep in mind that every situation is different. Some estates will be easier to manage than others, and it’s important to talk with those who were involved in the making of the will (such as an attorney) to help you understand your specific duties. Here are a few of the responsibilities of an executor:

  • Locate assets and manage them until they can be properly distributed to those named on the will. You might have to make decisions about which investments to sell – including property. You might try using a budgeting spreadsheet for managing their financials.
  • Pay taxes for the estate. Executors make sure that taxes is properly calculated. They also must fill out all the necessary forms and assist their attorney with all paperwork.
  • Pay debts of the estate. As financial expert Dave Ramsey says, “whatever you own stands good for what you owe.” When someone passes away, their debts are not the burden of their children. Instead, their debts are the burden of their own estate. Therefore, assets of the estate might have to be sold by the executor to cover the debts of the estate.
  • Figure out if probate court proceedings are necessary. Keep in mind that even if probate court isn’t necessary, the will must be filed with the probate court. Probate is a legal process that involves proving that a deceased person’s will is valid, identifying property (and property value), paying debts and taxes, and distribution of property.
  • Handle questions from people named on the will. This can be one of the most difficult parts of being an executor. The emotional toll on the executor (especially when they were close to the deceased) is often a difficult burden. Executors should therefore be prepared for difficult conversations with the deceased’s friends and family.
  • Set up a separate bank account that handles money owed to the deceased. Executors must be careful to properly handle the finances of the deceased, and a separate bank account is necessary for legal and moral reasons.

It is important that the executor of the estate act in good faith according to the terms laid forth in the will. But there may come circumstances where the will has left some kind of matter unresolved. In those cases, the executor must act within legal reason to most closely match their understanding of the intentions of the deceased.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

When there is no will, a person is said to have died intestate. That means they have died without a testimony.

If this happens, because there is no testimony to follow, there can be no executor. The dealings of the deceased’s property are left to the government to decide. This is one reason why it is so important to get a will and name an executor.

When you’re the executor for an estate, don’t forget to rely and trust in God. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you been an executor for someone close to you? What was it like, and what can we learn from you? Share your story in the comments below.

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  1. Anne

    Since the end of July 2011, I’ve been serving as the Executrix of my mother’s estate. The emotional and psychological toll, and the tensions within our family are far greater than I expected.

    The actual paperwork and legal stuff are also confusing, especially because there are two pieces of real estate to be sold. Within a year we must sell the house or the bank will foreclose. Those are the standard terms of a Reverse Mortgage. We only owe $43K on the mortgage, so we should profit from the sale. But my sister will not move out of my mother’s house. It would devastate me, but I might have to evict her. She’s been telling people that I want her to end up living on the street with her children. She is interfering with the sale of the house, She canceled a showing, with a buyer who was only in town for one day.

    It’s eating me alive. I’m fortunate to work with a supportive lawyer who specializes in Elder Care and Estate Law. The process will take at least a year because it involves selling two pieces of real estate, which, in itself, can be a confusing process. He will make sure every detail is done correctly, so that after it is over, I won’t have to worry about possible legal repercussions

    These are my own suggestions because of this experience:

    1) Do not appoint a family member as the Executor. I selected a friend who knows me extremely well, who understands my values and feelings about the people in my life. She’s also military, so she’ll have free access to JAG if she needs legal help. I believe a non-family member will bring out better behavior from the family because there are aren’t the other emotional entanglements.

    2) I do recommend hiring an Estate attorney. Their fees are charged by two terms: a) by the hour or b) by a percentage of the profits when the estate is being settled.

    3) The other day I got into a conversation with two other people. All of us had horror stories about resolving an estate. Greed. Fighting over a single piece of antique furniture. Families end up with permanent rifts during the resolution of an estate. We can help preclude this when we ourselves through statements we include in the will and in our instructions regarding wishes for the funeral.

    Insofar as it is up to you, beware of greed and avoid it. It’s just stuff. Focus on the person who has passed on and how they are still a part of you today. Remember their good qualities and forgive their faults. Do whatever you can to keep this difficult transition from tearing your family apart.

    • Cherie

      Anne – thanks for sharing your experience.

      My parents and brother are in a farming business. They have witnessed so many families fall apart permanently over estate dealings. To avoid those pressures on any one of their children, they have elected to have a trust attorney named as Executor and deal with the many decisions that will need to be made.

      This way, we can be upset and hurt by the dealings of a stranger rather than each other.

      A very good warning about making a family member responsible for carrying out all the details of an estate and the legal dealings.