What Are My Responsibilities As An Executor?

When an individual outlines how assets should be divided and distributed through estate planning documents, he or she also typically appoints an estate executor – someone responsible for protecting those assets during the estate administration and probate process.

If you have been named an executor, either through a will or through court appointment, it is important to understand your duties to protect assets, heirs and beneficiaries as well as yourself. If you fail to act in good faith, you could be held liable for damages that the estate suffers as a result.

At Steele Law Offices, LLC, we help estate executors, administrators, legal guardians, those with powers of attorney and other individuals who are responsible for making decisions about assets, financial security and health care. For executors specifically, we walk them through the probate process and help them understand how to:

  • Gather all necessary documents and paperwork: A will or trust may be clearly outlined, but these are only part of the process. You will likely need bank account and investment account information, tax documents, deeds, titles and other records that can be difficult to uncover if you do not know where to look.
  • Obtain letters of office (sometimes called letters testamentary): You will need to inform third parties (i.e., banks, creditors, etc.) that you have legal authority to act on behalf of the decedent's estate. The letter of office is the official document used to do this.
  • Locate and protect all assets: Assets should not be distributed (even small items that seem insignificant) until creditors have been paid. Do not make promises to heirs and beneficiaries and do not let them push you into making decisions that fall outside of the boundaries of the will or trust.
  • Uncover all debts, bills and taxes still owed by the deceased's estate: Assets in the estate should first be used to pay for funeral expenses and any outstanding balances the deceased owes.
  • Provide key information to heirs and beneficiaries: As an executor, you are not automatically obligated to give each beneficiary a copy of the will unless it's formally requested. You do, however, need to provide each beneficiary with information about what he or she is entitled to, any liabilities associated with the receipt of those assets (i.e., tax liabilities), and any delays or obstacles that may get in the way of distributing the assets.

As much as you may want to put these matters behind you, remember not to rush through the process. Make sure every detail is handled appropriately and in the best interests of the estate so you can protect yourself from problems later on.

We are here to help ease the burden and advise you through the process. Contact a lawyer at Steele Law Offices, LLC, in Glen Carbon, Illinois, online or by telephone at 618-623-4358 (toll free at 800-694-1911).