What Are an Executor’s Duties?

Plainfield Wills Trusts and Estates Lawyer at Herold Law, P.A., Help Clients Avoid Probate With Comprehensive Estate Plans .

When an individual creates a will, they typically appoint someone to carry out their wishes after they pass away. That person is the executor of the will. They manage the estate according to the decedent’s directives and distribute any remaining assets according to the will.

If you are named an executor in will, you probably have questions about your responsibilities. We can help. Keep reading to learn more about the role of an executor so you are informed and prepared to honor your loved one’s legacy just as they wanted.

Key Duties of an Executor

  1. Locate and Organize Estate Documents

After someone passes, the executor must find and organize all of the necessary documents to take over the management and probate of the estate. These documents include the death certificate, will, and any other documents related to the decedent’s estate.

While original copies of these documents are ideal, they are not always readily available. Keep any copies you have and speak with an estate lawyer about tracking down the originals.

  • File the Will in Probate Court

Next, the executor must file the will with the state. The timeframe for doing so varies from state to state. In New Jersey, for example, probate cannot be filed until ten days after the person’s death. However, there is not deadline to file.

Every will must be entered into court after someone dies, even if the estate is not going through probate. (This is the case for smaller estates that go through an informal probate process.)  

  • Notify the Appropriate Parties of the Death

The executor is responsible for notifying any interested parties and agencies of the deceased’s passing in a timely manner. That includes heirs and beneficiaries named in the estate. The executor should notify landlords, banks, credit card companies, and government agencies need to know the decedent has died.

  • Pay Bills During the Probate Process

Until the estate is settled, some bills still need to be paid. Consider creating a bank account for this purpose. This account can hold any remaining pay checks or income owed to the decedent and pay out mortgages, utilities, and other bills.

  • Inventory and Value the Assets

At this stage, the executor takes an inventory of the decedent’s assets and values them so they can be properly distributed. This can be done in a worksheet available with the local probate court. The executor can hire appraisers and other experts to determine the value of more complex, high-value assets.

  • Determine Asset Ownership

Next, the executor determines ownership of the assets in the estate. This helps to figure out if probate is necessary. In some cases, if the assets owned by the decedent are shared with a surviving co-owner through community property or joint tenancy, they can be passed on without probate. Retirement accounts, life insurance, and trust property can also be passed on without probate.

  • Manage Probate (If Necessary)

When probate is necessary, the executor files a petition with probate court. A probate petition generally includes the death certificate, the original will, and the application to be appointed executor. Even when the executor is named in the will, they must still be appointed by the court. Once the probate petition is approved, the probate case is opened.

  • Prove the Will

After the probate case is open, the executor must prove the will is valid before they can distribute any assets. A valid will is in writing, witnessed, and signed by a testator with capacity. If you only have a copy of the will or the will has not been witnessed, the probate court may make an exception and accept the will as valid.

  • Manage the Estate  

Throughout this process, the executor also has the important task of protecting the estate’s assets from avoidable damage or depreciation. Maintaining a separate bank account for this purpose is helpful.

You might also consider working with a financial advisor to help you manage real estate and make investment decisions to maintain the value of the decedent’s assets as much as possible.

  1. Pay Debts and Taxes from the Estate

Any legitimate debts and taxes owned by the decedent must now be paid. It is not uncommon for these costs to exceed the funds available in the estate. Some assets are protected from creditors under state law.

For the others, it is a matter of determining which debts take priority. However, creditors do have a deadline to make a claim against the estate. These matters can be complex and benefit from the expertise of an experienced estate lawyer.

  1. Distribute Assets and Close the Estate

After the deadline for creditor claims has passed, taxes and debts have been paid, and disputes have been resolved, the executor can now formally close the estate. This usually involves filing certain documents with the court. These documents include a final accounting of all of the assets, paid debts and taxes, and a plan for the distribution of remaining assets.

Once the court approves this plan, the assets are distributed/ The executor files one final proof of asset distribution and asks the court to close the case. Now their job is complete.

Partner With an Estate Lawyer to Streamline the Process

Being an executor is an important job, but it is not without its challenges. If you are tasked with resolving another person’s estate upon their death, consider hiring an estate lawyer for guidance. An estate lawyer can assist you every step of the way to prevent hiccups and help the process go smoothly.

Plainfield Wills Trusts and Estates Lawyer at Herold Law, P.A., Help Clients Avoid Probate With Comprehensive Estate Plans

Effective estate planning will help you enjoy your assets and share them with your heirs in the future. Our knowledgeable Plainfield wills, trusts, and estates lawyers at Herold Law know the estate planning process can feel overwhelming and can help. Call us at 908-647-1022 or inquire online to make an appointment with an estate law attorney today. From our office in Warren, we assist clients in Warren, Plainfield, and all of New Jersey.