Estate Planning Attorney Definitions: Executor

Estate Planning Attorney Definitions: Executor

Most people have heard of the term “executor” as relates to estate planning.

But do you really know what it is and what they do? Today you will!

What is an executor?

An executor is someone named in a will, or appointed by the court, who is given the legal responsibility to take care of a deceased person’s remaining financial obligations.

This means taking care of everything from disposing of property to paying bills and taxes.

Most executors are immediate family members, with spouses, children and parents being the most common executors.

What are executors typically responsible for doing?

Executors, as part of winding down an estate, will often perform the following functions, with the money to perform these duties comes from the estate itself:

  • Distributing assets according to the will;
  • Maintaining property until the estate is settled (e.g., upkeep of a house);
  • Paying bills for the estate;
  • Paying taxes on the estate; and
  • Make court appearances for the estate.

Does an executor have to serve, or can he or she refuse the responsibility?

The person named as an executor in a will can decline the responsibility that being an executor entails. In addition, someone who originally accepted the role as executor can resign at any time.

For this reason it is generally recommended that you name alternative executors, otherwise a court will appoint a replacement executor if your original choice bows out for some reason.

Do executors get paid?

Generally, most executors perform their duties without payment, but executors are entitled to payment.

The reason most executors don’t request compensation is because most executors are close family members and perform their duties out of respect for the deceased.

The amount an executor gets paid is set by state law and what a probate court decides is reasonable under the circumstances.

Do executors need to hire a lawyer?

Many wills are fairly routine and simple, and require no specialized knowledge.

Even if a will goes through probate court, the paperwork required does not require a legal degree.

However, if there are disputes, complex property issues, significant tax liability, etc., then an executor should seriously consider getting professional help in the form of an estate planning lawyer.

An executor may use an estate planning lawyer as a resource to ask legal questions, or the executor may turn the entire probate process over to the lawyer.


Christopher Small

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Christopher Small is a Kirkland estate planning attorney who helps people get rich and live forever. He is also the owner of CMS Law Firm LLC.