The Role of Executor

An overview of the duties of an executor of a will

Last updated: 10 November 2016

What is an executor of a will?

An executor is a person appointed to oversee the management of an estate after someone dies. In most cases, this role is taken by a close family member or friend. The intended executor of a will is usually revealed before the writing of a will. If this doesn't happen, in most cases the identity of the executor will be written in the will.

If the person who has died had not written a valid will, the probate court will appoint an executor or estate administrator.

Before any of the estate can be divided, however, probate needs to be granted to the executor so they can legally conduct their duties.

Executor duties

Below are some of the most common responsibilities associated with being an executor of an estate:

  • Send copies of the death certificate to banks, building societies and other financial organizations
  • Check for any creditors and debtors
  • Prepare a thorough list of all of the estate’s assets and debts
  • Calculate the value of any estate tax and arrange to pay it
  • Collect any funds indebted to the estate
  • Pay any debts, fees and expenses owed from the estate
  • Distribute the assets of the estate to the entitled people according to the will or according to the probate court’s ruling

Removing an executor

Before a person dies, they can relatively easily change the named executor in their will. After they die, however, it becomes more complicated to remove or substitute an executor of an estate.

There are certain reasons why an executor might need to be removed from performing their duties. These include:

  • Mismanaging the estate by poorly fulfilling their duties
  • Not acting in the best interests of the will’s beneficiaries
  • Being unsuitable for the role, due to conflicting interests
  • Being legally ineligible, for instance if they have past felonies or is mentally incompetent
  • Refusing to obey a court order
  • Stealing or wasting the estate’s assets.

If you feel the executor of the estate needs to be removed from their role, an interested party must file for court proceedings. Interested parties are any individuals or businesses that have a claim to the estate’s assets, such as beneficiaries of the will or creditors.

It is highly recommended that you consult a probate attorney before filing for court proceedings to remove an executor, as the procedure can be complex and time-consuming.

Resigning as executor

If you have been appointed as an executor, but you do not want to take on the role, you can resign. This may be because you are unable to take on the responsibility due to personal reasons, such as a serious illness, or because you have a conflict of interests.

The procedure for resigning from the role of executor varies from state to state. In most states you will have to petition the probate court that appointed you or issued you letters of administration. You will usually have to also provide a written record of anything you have done in regards to the estate’s management up until that point.

Once the court agrees to your resignation and releases you from the role of executor, you are no longer responsible for the management of the estate.

Read more about probate and how to settle an estate.