At some point you may be asked if you would be willing to be named an executor in a friend or family member’s last will and testament. The first thought that may pop into your mind is “If I say yes, what am I getting myself into?” While you may be flattered by being offered this honor, keep in mind that you are being asked to undertake a serious responsibility so if you have any misgivings it may be wise to politely refuse. In fact, even after the death of the person in whose will you were named executor (this person is called the Testator), you can always renounce your appointment.
If you do accept, you will be responsible for petitioning the Surrogate’s Court to admit the will to probate after the Testator’s death. Most executors will retain an experienced attorney to prepare the petition and related documents which will be filed with the Court. Assuming there are no objections to probate, the Surrogate Judge will sign a decree admitting the will to probate and appointing you the executor. The Court will also issue to you a document called Letters Testamentary as evidence of your appointment.
Once you have been appointed, you must open an estate account and transfer assets (cash, securities, etc.) into that account. You are also responsible for paying all valid debts of the estate out of the estate account. If the estate is liable for estate taxes, estate tax returns must be filed and the taxes paid.
Once all debts, including taxes, have been paid, the executor typically provides each beneficiary with an accounting; showing assets collected, sums paid out, the balance of estate funds on hand and the proposed distribution to the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries will be asked to sign receipt and releases before they are paid their bequests.
The above summary is only a broad outline of an executor’s basic responsibilities. There may be other duties an executor may be called on to perform depending on the nature of the estate’s assets and whether or not all parties involved with the estate are in agreement on all matters.
Since failure to properly carry out your duties as an executor could lead to your being liable for any losses to the estate, it is important to retain experienced professionals to assist you in this important job.