Executors play a vital role in a person’s estate. If you are engaged in your own estate planning or were asked to serve an executor for someone else, you should understand the executor’s duties.     

Executors have the legal obligation of faithfully staying apprised of all the deceased person’s assets and debts and executing the will’s instructions for disposing these assets. If funds are improperly handled, the executor may be legally responsible for claims against the estate.

The executor should read the will and understand the intentions of the maker of the will, known as the testator. A testator letter explaining their intentions can help guide the executor. A testator meeting with the testator’s immediate family before the testator dies may be helpful to avoid any surprises and arguments.

Testator and executors should assure that there is an accessible list of all accounts, assets and debts. It should contain all online account passwords and the names and contact information of lawyers and accountants. Tax records, insurance information and similar financial information should be easily accessible.

After the testator dies, asset distribution should not take place immediately, so the family has time to mourn. But the executor should change the locks on the house and secure all possessions, so no one takes any personal property.

Executors need to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate so they can fulfill many of these requirements and duties. Also, a separate bank account should be created so that the executor can pay all bills and deposit proceeds in one place.

Creating a deadline calendar helps assure the timely performance of duties such as notifying creditors and heirs, filing forms, paying bills, completing taxes or attending any court proceedings. Having good records and preserving the value of assets, such as the testator’s house, are other important duties.

Asset distribution requires notifying all heirs of probate proceedings and keeping them updated. When the claims period ends, the executor must determine which creditors need paid and the order of these payments.

After this is completed, heirs receive the assets identified in the will. It may be possible to divide up personal property without an assessment.

A lawyer may help file legal and tax forms and handle more complex legal matters. Attorneys can also plan an estate that meets the testator’s needs.