I'm an executor – what are my responsibilities?

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Being asked to be the Executor of a family member or friend’s estate is an honour. In asking you to perform these duties the person is trusting you with their last wishes including properly settling their debts and distributing their real and personal property in accordance with their Last Will and Testament. However, in addition to being an honour, being an Executor comes with serious responsibilities that must be carried out precisely under the law. The penalty for not properly executing your duties as an Executor can lead to further legal issues for yourself. 

Firstly, it is important to understand what an Executor is and does. An Executor is the person designated to do the following;

  • Identify all of the assets the deceased held
  • Calculate the full amount of liability the estate owes at the time of death, including all estate-related taxes
  • File any and all necessary paperwork with the Court
  • File for Probate of the Will or secure Letters of Administration
  • Obtain legal counsel for matters that require assistance
  • Keep abreast of all legal deadlines associated with distributing an estate
  • Notify beneficiaries of their respective inheritances
  • Distribute the estate in accordance with the Will after all of the debts of the estate have been settled
  • Properly document the payment of liabilities and the distribution of assets

Each of these responsibilities is both necessary and mandatory. In the event that the Executor is not careful, thorough mistakes can be made which could include improper;

  1. Payment of liabilities including estate taxes
  2. Distribution of assets
  3. Incomplete legal paperwork
  4. Record keeping pertaining to the payment of the estates’ liabilities and the distribution of the assets

Making any of these mistakes can lead to the Executor being held personally liable to the debtors or beneficiaries of the estate. However, there are also other more personal tasks that an Executor might also be responsible for completing or overseeing such as;

  • Alerting family and friends to the passing of the deceased
  • Handling funeral arrangements
  • Attending to an estate sale of personal assets not distributed by the Will
  • Engaging a realtor to sell real property

While these duties are often more personal in nature, they too must be carried out with the utmost professionalism and an eye toward any and all legal responsibilities that these duties inherently entail. 

Handling the estate of a friend or loved one is a significant responsibility. Before agreeing to act in the capacity of an Executor it is wise to have at least one very candid conversation with the person requesting your assistance. Some of the topics you should cover include;

  1. An accurate understanding of the real and personal property the Testator is distributing via their Will
  2. A copy of the Will and any accompanying Trusts or Guardianship papers
  3. Reading and reviewing all of these documents allowing you to ask questions about any provisions that you do not understand or lack clarity on
  4. Any bequeaths that could cause a cantankerous situation to arise 
  5. How any anticipated conflicts should be addressed; possibly suggesting that these wishes be put into the Will itself.
  6. The name and address of the solicitor who drafted the Will and any accompanying documents
  7. Funeral and burial requests; possibly having the Testator put those instructions in writing

As you and the Testator have this discussion it is possible other questions will arise. It is important to set aside any personal feelings of uncertainty or embarrassment and ask all of the questions you need to so that you are fully informed and comfortable handling the situation in its entirety. By doing so you ensure yourself greater success in performing your Executorship duties.

If you find yourself in need of assistance with this or any other legal issue, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.


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