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Complete Guide: What Is an Executor and What Do They Do?

Wondering what the executor or executrix of an estate does? This guide answers the most common questions about executors.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

An Executor of Estate is a person or institution appointed by a court who is responsible for carrying out the terms of a Will and overseeing the administration of an estate. What exactly would an Executor do? Keep reading as we explore everything you need to know about the important role an Executor plays in settling an estate. We’ll cover: 

What Does an Executor of Estate do? 

While the duties and responsibilities of an Executor can vary by state and by the particular estate at issue, they generally include:

  • Interacting with the attorney (or other court with jurisdiction over probate proceedings)

  • Identifying and taking control over probate assets, such as: 

    • bank accounts

    • accrued salary

    • personal property

    • life insurance or retirement proceeds payable to the estate

    • business interests held by the Decedent

  • Paying taxes, bills and expenses from estate assets

  • Determining the distributions to be made from the estate

  • Making distributions to Beneficiaries and heirs

  • Working with attorneys and/or accountants during the administration of the estate

  • Maintaining detailed accounts and records and, if required, filing an inventory of assets and accounting of assets with the court

This is only a representative list of the types of responsibilities an Executor may have. Some estates may require additional tasks, and some of the above-mentioned tasks may not be required at all.

What Should I do if I’m Named an Executor?

You should be honored to be nominated as an Executor of a Will. You’ll play a critical role in administering an estate and carrying out the terms of a Will. Individuals nominated as Executors are generally trusted and respected by the Testator, or the person making the Will.

What am I responsible for as an Executor? 

Right now, you probably aren't responsible for anything. After the Testator's death, you’ll be asked to accept the responsibility of an Executor of Will and manage and administer the Testator's Estate.

As noted, an Executor’s exact responsibilities will vary by state and largely depend on the specific details of the estate at hand, but Executors often handle the following:

  • Gathering assets of the estate

  • Coordinating the estate’s payment of taxes and debts

  • Making distributions to heirs and Beneficiaries

  • Potentially making filings with a probate or other court that handles probate proceedings

  • Working with accountants and attorneys to handle some of the tasks required in probate, if the circumstances allow

When does my role as Executor begin?

Your duties and responsibilities as an Executor won't come into play until after the death of the Testator. In most cases, a court must approve your appointment before you assume any responsibilities.

If you’ve recently been named Executor, you likely don’t need to do anything immediately, unless the Testator has passed away. If he or she is still living, and they’ve let you know they are naming you Executor, it may be helpful to have a conversation with them. 

While it can be difficult to raise the subject, remember the fact that you were nominated means you’re someone who’s held in very high regard. You’re being trusted to handle the many responsibilities that come with being named Executor. Having that conversation might make it easier to confidently carry out your duties when the time comes.

Other common questions

What Are Other Names for “Executor”?

While “Executor” is the more common term for the role, “Executrix” is based on gender and was at one time used if a female was appointed to oversee the execution of a Will. Today, gender neutral titles are sometimes used too, such as “Administrator” or “Personal Representative.” Most often though, these are used in cases when an estate is intestate (when a Decedent dies without leaving a Will). 

Does a Court Need to Approve an Executor?

Yes, the court must approve the nomination to appoint an Executor. Once your appointment as Executor has been approved, if you have any questions about your duties and responsibilities, you may wish to consult a qualified attorney licensed to practice in your state for more guidance.

Does a Court Always Approve an Executor? 

Most often, a court will approve an appointed Executor. That said, if someone like a Beneficiary objects to the appointment, the objection may be taken into consideration. 

Can an Executor Override a Beneficiary?

As long as you’re acting in the best interest of the estate and as dictated by the Will, an Executor can override a Beneficiary. 

Does an Executor Get Paid?

Executors are usually entitled to compensation for their work. In cases where there is no Will, the amount can vary and often depends on the state where the Decedent passed away. If you’ve been named Executor, there may be provisions for your compensation in the Will. 

Executors play an important role that bears a lot of responsibility in the world of Estate Planning. To be chosen or appointed as one is a big deal. Understanding your role and how you can best fulfill the duty is your first step. It ensures you’ll be able to honor the wishes of the friend or family member who thought enough of you to trust you with their legacy. 


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