Responsibilities of an Executor/Personal Representative

Being an Executor is like solving a puzzle

Being an executor of someone’s estate is certainly an honor. After all, it typically means a loved one trusted you with the task of distributing his/her personal possessions to his/her heirs. However, it can also be an overwhelming and difficult time. Most executors are grieving the death of a loved one. In addition, they face with numerous tasks and responsibilities. Often, they don’t know where to turn. Moreover, an executor may not even know what his/her responsibilities are.

Most executors know they have to distribute the decedent’s personal property, but many do not know that they job does not end they. They also pay taxes owed, pay credible debts, and maintain all personal property until they distribute the remaining assets. The executor takes care of yard work, pays bills, and manages any other issues at the deceased’s home – or hire someone to do so.

In addition, while it is time-consuming to be an executor, an executor may not receive an inheritance from the estate. If the executor is named in the will or has a legal claim to the inheritance, then s/he would receive an inheritance. However, if not, s/he can charge the estate for the time spent serving as an executor. Laws vary by state, but executors are often entitled to some compensation for their expenses and time spent closing out an estate.

What are the Executor’s Responsibilities?

In a nutshell, the executor has to identify and protect all of the decedent’s assets. The executor also has to pay any taxes owed by the estate or the decedent. Then the executor pay credible debtors. Finally, the executor distributes the remaining assets according to the will and state laws.

Below are some of the tasks and responsibilities of the executor. (For a more thorough outline of an Executor’s responsibilities, download our free Probate Task List.):

  • Identifying the decedent’s assets. The executor must identify and protect all of the decedent’s assets. This includes maintaining any property and insurance on the property. It also means keeping all personal assets safe including jewelry and other valuables.
  • Filing the will with the court. Most executors file the will with the court to prove the validity of the will, then the court officially names the executor.
  • Contacting all heirs and beneficiaries. It is the executor’s responsibility to notify an heirs or other beneficiaries of the wishes of the decedent and to distribute the property as needed. The executor should obtain a receipt for any property distributed.
  • Closing out the decedent’s estate. The executor notifies financial institutions, government entities (including the Social Security Administration), insurance companies, employers, and anyone else the decedent had a relationship with.
  • Setting up a bank account for the estate. It is a good idea for executors to keep the estate finances separate from his/her own finances. Therefore, executors should setting up an account for the estate.
  • Making any payments necessary to maintain the estate. Until the estate is settled, the executor continues with any payments necessary for the upkeep of the estate. This means maintaining any property that was owned by the decedent.
  • Paying off debts and creditors. The executor must use estate funds to pay credible debts before distributing estate assets among the heirs. The executor is responsible for notifying creditors of the death and making arrangements for paying the debts.
  • Paying taxes. The executor uses estate funds to pay any taxes owed by the decedent and/or the estate. Typically, the executor files the decedent’s final tax return. In some cases, the estate pays taxes before the executor distributes assets among the heirs.
  • Distributing remaining assets. The executor distributes the decedent’s assets according to the decedent’s will and any state laws.
  • Filing a final account. Most courts require a final accounting of the estate. This shows what happened to all of the estate assets. It is a good idea to have the heirs sign receipts for the items they receive from the estate. Courts often require this as part of the final accounting.

Next Steps

Settling someone else’s estate is a large undertaking. You have to make sure you do not skip any steps or make any mistakes. You can be held responsible for failing to settle the estate properly. This is why we recommend that you work with a team of professionals who can assist you in settling the estate. Your team should not be limited to an attorney as there are numerous tasks with which an attorney cannot assist.

Visit to learn more and download our free Probate Task List.


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