Responsibilities of the Executor of a Probate Estate

estate planning

Many people are honored when a friend or loved one asks them to be the executor of their estate. It shows a high level of trust. However, it's more than simply making sure each beneficiary receives the items bequeathed to them. The executor of estate has many responsibilities.

An estate executor has a fiduciary responsibility to the family of the decedent. The executor must not use the position for profit or disclose any confidential information to unauthorized parties. He or she must exercise diligence while dealing with the decedent's estate. Finally, the executor must protect the estate during probate, whether this means providing sufficient insurance coverage for property or keeping the estate money in a secure bank account.

Because the position involves legal responsibilities, in Texas the executor must be 18 years-old or older, of sound mind, and a US citizen. He or she must not have any conflicting interests, nor can he or she be a convicted felon, unless he has been pardoned and has had all civil rights restored.

A judge may determine an executor unsuitable based on reasons that vary from case to case. An executor does not have to live in Texas, but, because many of the responsibilities must be dealt with in person, it is best if he or she is a Texas resident.

An executor files and application to probate the will and is required to deliver the original will to the probate court in the county where the decedent lived. After filling out the necessary forms and providing proper identification, the judge will then issue an order naming the applicant executor, giving him or her the authority to transfer assets, access financial accounts, and carry out other responsibilities, such as overseeing any out of state process, if necessary. In a nutshell, the executor’s job is to gather up the assets of the deceased person, pay off any debts, and distribute the estate according to the terms of the will.

The executor now begins carrying out his or her duties. They are:

  • Notify all beneficiaries
  • Identify, collect, and maintain all assets – Assets include personal property, items with titles, such as cars or real estate, and financial holdings, such as investments and bank accounts. If the estate includes property in another state, the executor must start another probate there.
  • Gather documents – Locate bank statements, driver's license, tax statements, life insurance statements, credit card statements, social security statements, etc.
  • Pay Estate Debts and Taxes – Pay any outstanding debts, file tax return for the decedent and the estate, cancel credit cards.
  • Complete any ongoing legal actions.
  • Distribute assets in accordance with decedent's will.

Once all of these steps have been completed, the estate will not be closed, but will remain open in case an asset is discovered later on. Probating a will can take as little as 2-3 months for a simple estate and more complex estates take longer.

Keep in mind that an applicant is not the executor until he or she has been sworn in by the court, so he can't do anything in a legal capacity until then, even if everyone knows that person was chosen for the position. Immediately after the death, the applicant may be tempted to allow a family member or friend to use money or take some item against his or her inheritance, but he or she does not have the right to do so yet. The applicant can do things like check on the decedent's pets, making sure they are cared for, if necessary. Make sure someone is picking up the decedent's mail and newspapers. Double-check the arrangements for care of any minor children or other dependents. Arrange for a house sitter during the funeral service to prevent burglaries.

Being an executor of estate is a position that requires a great deal of time, but it truly is an honor to know the decedent put his or her trust in you to see that all last wishes are carried out.