An executor is a person who manages the estate of the deceased, known as the decedent. Also called a personal representative, the executor is typically named in a will. A judge chooses and appoints an estate administrator if a decedent dies intestate, or without a will, or does not name an executor in his will. An estate administrator basically has duties and powers equivalent to an executor. Each state has individual laws regarding estates and executorships.
Opening Probate Estates
Probate refers to the legal process by which an estate is administered. After a will maker dies, someone must present the will to the appropriate state court to open the probate process. A named executor can open the probate process by presenting the will and filing a petition with the probate court in the county in which the decedent resided. The court charges a filing fee to open an estate. State law determines the exact procedure for opening a probate case. The court reviews the will for its validity, and if it is deemed valid, a judge officially appoints the nominated executor to act for the estate.
An executor's main duty is to distribute a decedent's estate. The executor has the duty and power to perform tasks like closing bank accounts, selling real estate, signing car titles, paying estate bills and filing estate tax returns. Once the estate debts are satisfied, executors must distribute the remaining estate property to the beneficiaries named in the will. If no will exists, an administrator must distribute a decedent's property to his heirs according to the state's laws of intestacy. Executors must also provide an inventory for the court, listing the estate's assets and debts, as well as a final accounting, indicating how debts were satisfied and assets distributed.
Read More: What Are the Duties of the Executor of a Last Will & Testament?
An executor may us estate money to hire professionals to help him administer a decedent's estate. For example, an executor can retain experts like attorneys, accountants and appraisers. The executor, herself, also may be compensated for her work. State laws determine reasonable fees for executors. Fees can be calculated by the hour or be based on a percentage of the estate's value.
An executor has no personal liability for a decedent's bills. Therefore, a decedent's bill collectors cannot sue an executor because the estate does not have the funds to fulfill all the debts. An executor can be sued by a decedent's beneficiaries and heirs if she depletes estate money through mismanagement, fraud, or self-dealing. For example, if an executor personally buys a piece of rare, artwork from the estate for less than its fair market value, he may be forced to pay the estate for the loss incurred.
Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.