Learn About the Role of an Executor or Executrix

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The executor – called an executrix if she's female – is the individual responsible for managing the affairs of a deceased person’s probate estate. Executor is the more commonly used term, even when a woman serves in the position. Sometimes the gender-neutral term “personal representative” is used in place of either executor or executrix.

What an Executor or Executrix Does

Probate can last months or even years with extremely complicated estates.

The executor or executrix is responsible for managing the estate throughout the legal process. This typically involves seeking approval from the probate court before taking various actions and making numerous court filings. The executor must deal with beneficiaries, heirs, and professionals such as accountants and appraisers. Here’s a summary of what the job usually entails.

  • The executor or executrix must submit the decedent’s last will and testament to the probate court and attend a hearing where the judge will determine if the will is valid – it meets the letter of the law in that state and includes no procedural errors. In most cases, the decedent has named his choice for executor in his will, and the judge normally appoints that individual. He’ll grant her authorization to act on behalf of the estate through “letters testamentary” or “letters of administration,” documents she can provide to various entities such as insurance companies or financial institutions to confirm that she has authority to act on behalf of the estate and its beneficiaries. 
  • The executor should identify all the decedent’s assets and gather them for safekeeping if necessary. She should maintain them using estate funds, such as by making sure insurance policies don’t lapse. This will require setting up an estate bank account. Some assets will have to be appraised to determine their value.
  • The executor will make all necessary notifications of the death. Some services, subscriptions, and benefits the decedent was receiving will have to be terminated. 
  • The decedent’s estate is responsible for paying his final debts. The executor or executrix must identify his creditors and send them notice that the decedent has died, and some states require that she also run a newspaper notice to ensure that any creditors she cannot identify are also alerted. Creditors can then make claims to the estate for payment. The executor then decides if the debts are valid and, if so, pays them from estate funds. She can also decline to pay certain debts if she feels they’re not valid. In many states, the creditor can then petition the court to override her decision. This usually requires that she appear in court to defend her position. 
  • If the estate is large enough, the executor will be responsible for having its assets valued to determine if estate taxes are due. She'll prepare and file an estate tax return. She might also have to prepare and file an estate income tax return if any of its assets earn income during the probate period. She will prepare and file a personal income tax return for the decedent’s final year of life.
  • Finally, the executor will typically submit an accounting to the court detailing all actions and transactions she made on behalf of the estate. The judge will then grant her the authority to distribute the estate’s remaining funds and property to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.

Not all estates require all these steps, and some particularly complicated estates may require additional work. Consult with an estate attorney if someone has asked you to act as executor or executrix to find out exactly what the job is likely to entail in your state and with that particular estate.