One of the most important decisions a Testator makes when creating a Last Will and Testament is deciding who to appoint as the Executor of the estate. Unfortunately, most people do not realize how important this decision is and, instead of taking the time to decide who the best person is for the job, they simply fill in the name of a spouse, family member, or close friend. The problem generally stems from the fact that people are unaware of the numerous – and often complex duties and responsibilities an Executor has during the probate of an estate. If you are planning to create your Will in the near future, consider the following “10 Common Executor Duties” carefully before deciding who to appoint as your Executor.
10 Common Executor Duties and Responsibilities
- Identify and secure estate assets. Immediately upon learning of the decedent’s death, the Executor of the estate must try to identify and secure as many estate assets as possible. This might entail things such as closing financial accounts, changing locks on real property, or physically moving vehicles. A more thorough inventory will occur later; however, the Executor must at least identify enough estate assets to determine if the estate will require formal probate or qualifies for an alternative for small estates.
- Initiate the probate of the estate. Most states require an Executor to submit an original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament to the appropriate probate court within a specified number of days after learning of the death or learning of the appointment as Executor, whichever comes later. Along with the Will, the Executor will need to file a petition to open the probate of the estate. Most Executors retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney at this point to assist them with the probate of the estate.
- Categorize, inventory, and value estate assets. Not all assets are required to go through probate. The Executor must make a more thorough inventory of assets and determine which ones are included in the probate of the estate. A date of death value for each asset must also be ascertained.
- Notify creditors that probate is underway. Known creditors may be notified personally; however, unknown creditors of the estate must also be notified by publishing the notice of probate in a local newspaper.
- Review creditor claims. Creditors then have a statutory amount of time within which to file a claim against the estate. The Executor must review all claims submitted and approve or deny each one. Approved claims are paid out of estate assets.
- Defend against challenges. In the event that someone decides to challenge the validity of the Will submitted for probate, the Executor is responsible for legally defending the Will throughout the ensuing litigation.
- Manage assets. Throughout the entire probate process, the Executor has a duty to manage and protect all estate assets until they are transferred to a new owner.
- Sell assets. If the estate lacks sufficient cash assets to pay all approved creditor claims and/or to pay estate taxes owed by the estate, the Executor must decide which estate assets to sell, and oversee the sale of those assets, to raise the necessary cash.
- Calculate and pay estate taxes. Before the probate process can reach its conclusion, the Executor must determine if any federal and/or state gift and estate taxes are due from the estate. Estate tax returns must be prepared and filed and any tax debt owed must be paid.
- Transfer assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. At the end of the probate process the Executor will finally prepare any legal documents necessary to legally transfer the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
It should now be clear that the job of an Executor encompasses a wide range of duties and responsibilities. Your choice of Executor can lead to an efficient and expeditious probate of your estate or a lengthy and costly probate process.
For more information, please join us for one of our upcoming FREE seminars. If you have questions or concerns regarding Executor duties and responsibilities, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.