You have, undoubtedly, heard of an “Executor.” You may not, however, be familiar with the numerous and diverse duties and responsibilities an Executor has. You should be though, because you could find yourself appointed as the Executor of the Last Will and Testament of a decedent at some point in your life. If that occurs, you should have a good idea of what the position entails before deciding to accept the appointment. Even if you are never appointed as the Executor of someone else’s Will, you will need to appoint an Executor for your Will. What you do not want to do is to make the mistake many people make of simply appointing a spouse, family member, or close friend without giving the matter much thought. The right Executor can move the probate of your estate along and save your estate money. The wrong Executor can have your estate tied up in probate for much longer than is necessary and end up significantly diminishing the value of your estate by the time all is said and done. Therefore, you need to know what the Executor of a Will actually does in order to choose the right one for your Will.
The first responsibility an Executor has is to get the probate process started. The law requires anyone in possession of an original Last Will and Testament of a decedent to come forward with the document within a short period of time after learning of the death. Therefore, an Executor must submit the Will to the appropriate court shortly after the decedent’s death along with a petition to open probate.
Identifying, Locating, and Valuing Assets
The next thing an Executor must do is to identify all the estate assets and then figure out which ones are probate assets. Estate assets include all real and personal property as well as all tangible and intangible assets. Because not all assets are required to go through the probate process, an Executor must figure out which assets are non-probate assets, such as trust assets, proceeds from a life insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property. Once all probate assets have been identified and located the Executor must determine a Date of Death (DoD) value for each asset. This often requires the assistance of a professional appraiser. The court may also require the Executor to prepare an inventory of all estate assets along with the DoD values.
Creditors of the Estate
An Executor also has a duty to notify all creditors of the estate. Known creditors are typically notified individually while unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper. Creditors then have six months after the first published notice of letters testamentary or of administration, as a general rule, to file a claim against the estate. The Executor is responsible for reviewing those claims and approving or denying them. If a claim is approved the Executor must pay the claim out of available estate assets. If insufficient liquid assets exist to pay all creditor claims the Executor must liquidate (sell) assets in order to pay the approved claims. If a claim is denied the creditor may pursue the matter in court in which case the Executor must defend the decision to deny the claim.
Securing, Protecting, and Managing Assets
Throughout the entire probate process the Executor has a duty to first secure, and then protect and/or manage the estate assets. This could mean something as simple as depositing funds in a secure account to repairing damage to real property and then selling the property.
Filing and Paying Taxes
Before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries or heirs of the estate, all federal and/or state gift and estate taxes must be paid. Therefore, the Executor is responsible for preparing and filing all necessary tax forms and paying any tax debt owed to the state or federal government. This may also require the sale of estate assets if sufficient liquid assets are not available.
Finally, the Executor of an estate is responsible for effectuating the legal transfer of the remaining estate assets to the designated beneficiaries under the terms of the Will or to legal heirs if the Will fails to account for all assets.
If you have been appointed Executor under the Will of someone who is recently deceased, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. Most Executors retain an estate planning attorney to help during the probate process. If you have additional questions or concerns about who to appoint as the Executor of your Last Will and Testament, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.