In sitting with clients and drafting their estate plan, the question of "what exactly DOES an Executor do?" comes up often. So, this blog is dedicated to demystifying the term.
Being asked to serve as an executor can sound pretty intimidating and if all of your knowledge comes from old movies, it can sound downright scary. I'm not sure why, but executors in old movies are always the bad guy. However, rather than looking at the request in negative terms, think about it as an honor. When someone asks you to be their executor, they are saying that they trust you to wind up their affairs. It's one of the last requests that a loved one makes.
First let's start with the term "executor." An executor refers to a man who is appointed in a will to wrap up a person's estate. An "executrix" is the exact same thing except the person is a woman. Executor and executrix are genders specific. Personally, I prefer the terms "personal representative." The term personal representative is gender neutral and can be an executor or executrix appointed under the terms of a will or an administrator appointed in an intestate estate. Personal representative is all inclusive and is my preferred term since I don't have determine if Pat is a dude or not.
Essentially, the executor's job is to collect and marshal the decedent's assets, pay the appropriate creditors, file the tax returns and get the money out to appropriate parties. There may be some additional duties, but these are the big ones.
Once you are appointed an executor, your first job is to locate and identify the decedent's assets. Since you are now in charge of the assets, you want to make sure that you collect and protect them. This is really important since you are ultimately responsible for the assets and may be held accountable by the court if you don't.
After you have collected and secured the assets, you will need to identify and pay the appropriate creditors. Determining which creditors should be paid isn't always easy so you will want to rely on the attorney for guidance.
Next you will want to make sure that the tax returns are filed. Again the attorney or the accountant should be consulted.
Finally, after you have completed the above tasks, you need to get the assets out to the appropriate parties. This is another one of those tasks that you had better get done right, so rely on the attorney for guidance, even if you think you know what you are doing.
Being asked to serve as executor is a lot of responsibility, but it is also an honor. If you are organized, diligent and rely on good counsel, it should be fairly straightforward.
If you can any questions about what it means to be an executor or would like to create an estate plan, please contact our office which serves Montgomery County, Philadelphia County and Buck County, Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.