What Are My Responsibilities As An Executor?
When a family member or close friend outlines how assets should be divided and distributed through estate planning documents, they also typically appoint 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. This is known as “breach of fiduciary duty.”
I am attorney Randall Steele and I am the principal attorney at Steele Law Offices, LLC. For over 30 years I have helped people in our community get the legal help and guidance they need. I 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. If you are an executor who is unsure of your duties, I can walk you through the probate process and help you 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. I can answer your questions regarding wills, trusts and other estate planning tools.
Get Professional Estate Executor Guidance
I am here to help ease the burden and advise you through the process and ensure everything is done according to the law. Reach out to me at Steele Law Offices, LLC, in Glen Carbon, Illinois, email me or call my office at 618-288-9591. I’m happy to answer your questions and let you know how I can help.