What Does the Executor of an Estate Need to Do?

If your father, mother or another loved one named you as their executor, they likely meant it as an honor. It means they trusted you. They felt you were the right person for the job. But—yes—it is a job. Often a big one. Being executor means tending to a lot of details.

It also means taking on some serious financial responsibility. As the executor of an estate, you have a fiduciary duty to everyone interested in it. This includes both potential heirs and debt collectors. You are legally obligated to uphold the estate’s value until everything’s paid off, transferred or sold.

Four main responsibilities

Given how many things there are to take care of after your loved one passes, it’s completely reasonable to feel a bit overwhelmed. After all, you might need to deal with your grief at the same time you’re learning about the giant list of chores and responsibilities you’ve inherited.

Fortunately, as Forbes notes, you can group most of the common duties into four larger categories:

  • Notifying the proper people. You’ll need to get a copy of the will, read it and file it with the appropriate court. You’ll also need to contact the people named in the will, as well as any creditors who need to be repaid. You may also need to cancel ongoing services.
  • Identifying and maintaining the estate. You’ll need to locate and collect all the assets named in the will. You’ll also want to note any other assets you find. Once you’ve got your list, you’ll need to maintain the estate to the best of your ability, making mortgage payments and managing stock portfolios.
  • Paying funeral expenses, debts and taxes. If your loved one didn’t set specifically set aside funeral expenses, you may be able to get these released from the bank. Then you’ll generally need to pay off any of your loved one’s debts and taxes before you can distribute the remainder.
  • Distribute the assets according to the will. You may need to liquidate certain assets. Executors often need to sell homes or vehicles. This process could run smoothly or become more complicated if anyone challenges the will.

Depending on the size of the estate, the whole process could take months or years. Throughout it all, you need to avoid shrinking the estate’s value. As a result, many executors work with attorneys to avoid any hint of negligence that might leave them personally liable.

It’s largely a thankless job

Serving as the executor of an estate is largely thankless, but you can receive some payment. California allows the executor to claim reimbursement based on the value of the estate.