How to Sign Legal Documents as the Executor of a Will

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The executor of a will carries out essential tasks after the death of the testator such as paying taxes, selling assets and distributing property to heirs. In doing so, he or she acts on behalf of the deceased's estate and must sign documents in a certain way to avoid personal liability.

The executor of a will is the person named by the will maker to carry out his last wishes after death. It’s a responsible and time-consuming role that requires filing in court for probate, paying the deceased person’s debts and taxes and distributing what’s left over to the beneficiaries. Unsurprisingly, the executor will sign many legal documents during the process including court papers, tax returns and documents for closing bank accounts. These documents must be signed in a certain way if the executor is to avoid any personal liability for the transaction.

Executor Acts on Behalf of the Estate

It is the executor’s job to act on behalf of the deceased’s estate. When signing documents, the executor must show that she is acting in her official capacity. Otherwise, there could be an argument that she is signing the documents for herself, which could make the executor personally responsible for the transaction.

The probate procedure gives the executor the legal right to administer the will. The executor must apply for probate within a certain period of the will maker’s death, according to each state's laws. The process is a lot like filing a lawsuit and may require a short hearing in front of the probate judge.

Assuming everything is in order and the will is valid, the executor will be issued official court papers known as letters testamentary. The executor will need these papers to prove her identity when finalizing the deceased’s financial matters.

How to Sign Documents as Executor

There’s no magic to the wording the executor must use when signing legal documents. As long as the signature mentions the executor’s specific role, then it should suffice. Something like, “Signed by Karen Yang, Executor of the Estate of Linda Yang, Deceased” will do the trick. The executor should then follow up with her ordinary signature in the usual way.

If the person receiving the document requires proof of the executor’s appointment, then a copy of the court letters testamentary may be provided.

Many of the documents the executor will need to sign are specifically designed for dealing with financial matters after death. For example, most banks have special forms for closing a deceased’s bank account. The executor should check these form documents to see if they contain the required wording and a designated area to sign in the capacity as executor.

Dealing With the IRS

The Internal Revenue Service has special rules for filing the final tax return of the deceased. Here, the executor will submit IRS Form 1040 in the same way the deceased would have done if she were alive. However, the executor must write across the top of the return the word "deceased" and the date of death alongside the deceased’s name.

The executor then signs the return with her own name followed by the designation "personal representative." IRS publication 559 sets out the details.

Getting a Signature Notarized

For some documents, the executor may be asked to have his signature notarized, which means taking the document to a local notary public, along with proof of the executor's identity. Identity in this context means:

  • Proof the executor is who he says he is, such as a passport or driver’s license.
  • Proof in the form of court letters testamentary that the executor is the court-appointed executor of the will.

The notary will witness the executor’s signature and affix an official stamp. The process is relatively quick, and generally costs somewhere in the region of $20.

References

About the Author

Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.