What Rights Does the Executor of an Estate Have?

By Fraser Sherman
Paying for the funeral may be part of your duties.

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If you become an executor, you assume responsibility for wrapping up someone's financial life after she dies. You settle the decedent's debts, pay taxes, manage estate assets and eventually distribute those assets to the heirs. It's often a complicated, difficult job, but the law gives you the authority and legal rights to get it done.

Managing the Assets

As executor, you control the estate's assets. You have the right to cancel the decedent's credit cards, transfer money between accounts, write checks on the estate accounts and even sell assets if that's necessary to pay off the decedent's debts. The beneficiaries are entitled to know how you're managing the estate, but they don't usually have authority over your decisions. You can't abuse these rights, though: Everything you do has to be in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries.

Advice and Help

Some estates are so simple and small that settling them is an open-and-shut affair. Settling larger estates, navigating probate or deciding how to manage an investment account requires help. As executor, you have the right to hire professionals -- an attorney, a certified public accountant or an appraiser, for example -- to help. Likewise, you can pay an attorney to deal with all the probate hearings. You're entitled to take money from the estate to pay professionals' fees.

Right to Information

As the executor, you have the right and need to get information about the deceased's assets. You can go through his paperwork to confirm you've found all his assets. You're entitled to know the state of his bank and investment accounts, for example. The bank or brokerage may want to see the death certificate, plus letters from the probate court confirming your appointment. After you prove your standing, you have the right to see bank and brokerage statements and make withdrawals from the accounts.

Rights to Payment

As executor, you're entitled to take a fee from the estate from your services. The decedent may set down a fee in the will. State laws also set fees, often basing them on a percentage of the estate's value. Other states authorize whatever the probate judge considers "reasonable compensation" given the complexity or simplicity of the estate. You must follow state law in paying yourself from the estate funds, and you're free to forgo the fee, if you choose.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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