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What Is the Role of an Executor in Estate Planning?

07/03/2024 | Blog
Image of Last Will and Testament with spectacles and pen

Executors play a key role in any estate plan. However, their role is often misunderstood. Below, our attorneys explain the role of an estate executor, including what they can – and cannot – do.

What Is an Executor?

An executor is a person who is responsible for distributing assets according to a deceased person’s wishes. They’re formally named in someone’s Last Will and Testament, and their job is to serve the estate’s best interests. You may also see them referred to as personal representatives.

Executors are often trusted friends or family members. However, they can be anyone you trust, including your estate planning attorney. You can also have more than one executor.

What Is the Role of an Executor of a Will?

An executor’s role is simple: handle the deceased’s person’s affairs after their death. The duties, however, take many forms. Typical executor duties include:

  • Petition the court for probate
  • Value the estate i.e. calculate the total value of all assets and liabilities
  • Pay debts and estate taxes
  • Defend legal actions brought against the estate
  • Notify beneficiaries about their status
  • Supervise asset distribution
  • Handle day-to-day estate administration e.g. selling the deceased person’s home

Given the significant responsibility held by an executor, it’s crucial that you choose yours wisely. Our estate planning attorneys can help you understand who may serve your estate best.

Estate Executor Responsibilities

Just as executors have duties, they have overarching responsibilities, too. Executors must:

  • Use “ordinary care and diligence” when exercising their duties. This simply means acting with a reasonable level of care and attention.
  • Act in good faith towards the estate’s beneficiaries. When administering the estate, an executor must protect and preserve the beneficiaries’ best interests.
  • Take personal responsibility, should they mishandle or mismanage the estate. This means they could be held financially responsible for neglecting their duties.

What an Executor Cannot Do

Executors must always act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. So, there are various things they cannot do, despite the authority they have. Executors cannot:

  • Abuse their position for financial gain. Executors are entitled to some compensation under California probate law. However, they cannot use their position to make a profit. For example, they can’t sell the deceased’s jewelry below the market rate to keep the profits.
  • Ignore their duties. Executors can’t neglect their duties to the estate. They can, however, approach the court in advance if they don’t wish to act as executor. An estate planning lawyer can explain how you can resign your position.
  • Change the will’s terms. Sometimes, when all debts are paid, there’s not enough left over to pay all beneficiaries. However, executors can’t otherwise decide “who gets what”. They must act according to the will’s terms.

Learn More About the Estate Planning Process

If you’re a personal representative, or you have queries about appointing an executor, we can help. As experienced estate planning attorneys, it’s our goal to make planning for the future as simple as possible. We’ll walk you through the entire process and help you move forward with confidence.

Contact the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo online or by phone to schedule a meeting.