Part 1: What Executors Do

The purpose of your will is to assure that your property is conveyed after your death the way you wish, and to see that your loved ones are protected.  One of the most important decisions to make in preparing your will is the choice of your executor, the person who will manage your estate.

Many people choose their spouse or an adult child to be executor, but for many people there are no family members capable of serving (or suitable for service).  In these situations, extra consideration must be given to the selection of the executor to be nominated in the will.

What Executors Do

The executor is responsible for administering your estate through probate.  He or she should be someone who is financially responsible, stable, and trustworthy.

The law requires an executor because someone must be responsible for wrapping up your affairs, which entails paying bills and taxes, gathering assets, and handling distributions to the beneficiaries you have chosen.  Other duties include:

  • Representing the estate in any litigation, including the prosecution of claims against others and the defense of any adverse claims.
  • Preparing and filing an accounting for review by an officer of the local court (the Commissioner of Accounts).
  • Guiding the will through probate to legal acceptance of its validity, including defending it against will contests.
  • Liquidating assets as required to pay claims and taxes and to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries; that is, selling items like stocks, bonds, cars or land to generate needed cash.

The executor notifies the IRS of his or her appointment by sending in a form and applying for a taxpayer identification number for the estate.  The executor must file a form to pay estate tax, when assets exceed available exemptions.  In many states, the executor may also have to file a state estate tax return.

There may also be income tax to pay.  Your executor must file final federal and state income tax returns for you, covering the year of your death.  Income to the estate in a year before the estate is completely settled is also subject to income tax.

While the executor’s duties are many and can be burdensome, he does not necessarily have to shoulder the entire burden.  He can, subject to review by the Commissioner of Accounts, use estate assets to hire lawyers or accountants to take care of many of his duties.

Peter Goergen

The materials on this website are meant for informational purposes only and nothing contained in this site is to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney directly. Do not act upon the information on this site without seeking professional guidance. Information on this website about specific matters or success in previous cases is not meant to be a prediction or guarantee of similar results in any other case. Each case consists of factors and applicable law unique to that case and you should consult an attorney.