I’m Executor. What now?

As discussed in another article, “probate” is the legal process by which a deceased loved one safely and securely transfers property to surviving family members. Your deceased loved one can still effectively transfer property because, after passing away, that property automatically becomes part of your loved one’s “estate.”

What does an Executor do?

The Executor is the person who manages the affairs of the estate after the Testator (the person who wrote the Will) passes away.

In order to initiate this process, the Executor (or a family member) simply needs to provide an attorney with information about the deceased’s estate.

Once the probate process is initiated, the Executor and the attorney work together to distribute assets from the estate, pay the estate’s debts, communicate with family members, and finalize any other remaining affairs of the estate. Generally speaking, that is it. (To learn more about the specifics, please read our article entitled “The Probate Process.”)

Also, while managing the estate’s affairs, the Executor must be honest and careful. If an Executor uses the estate’s money for personal purposes, the Executor faces civil and criminal punishments. If, however, the Executor is honest, and also relies on the advice of the probate attorney, managing and closing an estate’s affairs is a straightforward process.

(Note: If your loved one left no Will, then the court may still appoint an “Estate Administrator” instead of an Executor. An Estate Administrator and an Executor have the same responsibilities. The naming differs because the procedures differ when no Will exists.)

“I don’t want to be Executor.”

If you learn that you’ve been named as Executor while the Testator is still alive, then you should communicate this so that someone else can be designated.

In many cases, though, the Executor doesn’t find out that he has been named as such until after the Testator has passed away. If the Executor learns about this and does not want to serve as Executor, what happens?

Fortunately, being named as an Executor in a Will does not absolutely require you or force you to serve as Executor. You may choose to not serve as such and, if the Will is well-drafted, an alternate Executor will have been named who can serve instead. If no alternate has been named, then the court can appoint an appropriate party to serve.

Having said that, even if you will eventually choose to not serve as Executor, it is still very important that you notify your family members or other relevant parties about the existence of a Will because probate is subject to a statute of limitations that provides a narrow window that you do not want to miss. By notifying family members, or the alternate Executor, for example, they can then decide how to be proceed with managing the affairs of the estate.