Key Executor Duties For Probate
One reason some people don’t succeed in a job is they weren’t made fully aware of what their responsibilities were. Or, as author Steven Covey wrote, “they had their ladders up against the wrong wall.”
To help you succeed as an estate executor, here is a list of key executor duties you need to be aware of. You may, or may not, be called upon to perform all of these duties. Your exact responsibilities will be impacted by the size of the estate and the amount of pre-death planning done by the estate owner.
Arrange the Funeral
Though this isn’t a legal requirement, many executors are asked to manage funeral arrangements and other details related to the burial of the estate owner, including buying a headstone, writing the obituary, arranging for an honor guard, and more. In addition, coordinating funeral arrangements and payment with in-force insurance policies may be required.
Collect and Inventory Estate Assets
This may mean taking physical possession of tangible assets like jewelry, vehicles, and homes, as well as taking control of financial assets such as bank accounts and investment portfolios. This should be done as soon as possible. Still, some assets held by custodians like financial institutions typically require you first to be appointed executor by the probate court, which can take several weeks or longer.
Collecting all of the assets can be challenging for an executor. Even if the decedent left behind a list, you might receive account statements in the mail from previously unknown assets. Other assets may surface through conversations with advisors like attorneys or accountants, looking at previous tax forms, or performing online searches for retirement plans, life insurance policies, abandoned assets, and more.
You’ll also need to value these assets, which is straightforward for bank and investment accounts but not as easy for real estate, cars, and collectibles. Using professionals like real estate brokers and appraisers for asset valuation may be necessary.
Initiate Probate (If Required)
Not all estates need court involvement. Generally, an estate won’t have to undergo probate if it only contains assets that automatically transfer to named beneficiaries (life insurance policies, IRAs, other retirement plans) or if the estate qualifies to use a state-specific small estate procedure.
Protect and Manage Assets
An executor is responsible for protecting and managing estate assets, including taking reasonable steps to minimize asset risk. This might mean locking up valuables to prevent theft and making sure valuable assets remain insured, such as homes, cars, and valuable collections, including wine or art.
Protecting a home requires an executor to be proactive. The home will need to be reasonably maintained, including routine maintenance like yard work. A house may also need to be protected from fire and flood hazards, leaky roofs, and even vandals who could be attracted to an obviously abandoned property.
If the decedent owned all or part of a business, you’ll also be called upon to ensure the company continues operating, unless the business depended solely on the efforts of the deceased, such as them being a solopreneur or a professional practicing privately. Depending upon circumstances, you may need to manage the business yourself or hire a professional manager.
Protecting investments like retirement plans and equities like stocks or crypto involves a degree of risk for an executor. If the decedent owned some speculative stocks, for example, you might be tempted to cash out and leave the proceeds in a conservative money market account to avoid having the asset lose value, but you could be faulted for having the money market account lose value due to a low rate of interest credited to the account combined with inflation. If you’re not an experienced investor, you may want to obtain professional advice.
Notify Required Parties
There are numerous organizations and people you will need to notify about the estate owner’s death; some of these notifications are time-sensitive. They include:
- Social Security Administration
- Post office
- Financial institutions
- Life insurance companies
- Utility companies and other service providers
Pay Required Taxes
Another one of your duties is to pay all required taxes. This includes income taxes for the decedent (for their last year of life and any other unresolved tax years), income taxes for the estate while the estate is being settled, federal estate taxes, state estate taxes, and state inheritance taxes.
Additionally, you need to pay local property taxes for any property contained within the state. Note that federal and state taxes have priority over most other claims on the estate, including standard debts.
Resolve Estate Debts
Resolving the estate’s debts should be completed before distributing remaining assets to heirs. As executor, you may be held personally liable for estate debts if you make distributions rendering the estate incapable of paying its debts, even if the debts were unknown at the time.
Account for Results
You’ll need to prepare a Final Accounting of the estate, showing its assets, income, expenses, changes in asset value, and distributions. This is usually a required report that must be submitted to the court if the estate is passing through probate.
Settle the Estate in a Reasonable Time
There are no set rules on how long settling the estate should take; that will depend on many variables like estate size, location, contestation by heirs, etc. Regardless, you do have a duty to act reasonably and attempt to complete settlement within a reasonable period. Unhappy and impatient heirs can petition the court to have you removed if they believe you’re not acting in a timely manner.
Act in the Best Interests of the Estate
You have a fiduciary duty as executor to always put the estate’s interests ahead of everyone else’s – including your own. Some decisions won’t have a clear answer, requiring you to use your best judgment. For example, you can’t sell an asset at below-market price to a friend.
As executor, you must always follow the law and adhere to the highest ethical standards. Of course, you’re not expected to achieve perfect results, but you are required to follow the standard of a “reasonable, prudent individual.”
For your protection, keep accurate, detailed records of all your actions, particularly concerning financial transactions. When you’re addressing areas you may not know very well, such as real estate valuation and complex investments, you may want to seek professional assistance.
Questions Concerning Probate and Eeal Estate?
Certain aspects of settling an estate, like handling an estate’s real estate holdings, may be outside of your area of expertise or your comfort zone. If in doubt, work with a professional.
If you have questions concerning probate and real estate in Tarrant, Denton, Parker, Wise, Collin, or Dallas County, contact David Pannell and Cities Real Estate. David has extensive experience helping families with their real estate needs before, during, and after the probate process.
David has been an agent/realtor since 2005. He has served as a United States Marine, City of Arlington police officer, and is a dedicated family man. You can trust him to put your interests first in any and all situations.
Call David today at (817) 797-9047 for help with your real estate and probate needs. You will be treated respectfully, and your requirements will be met efficiently and confidentially.
NTREIS data last updated December 2, 2023.
Why Hire Us?
We help FAMILIES GOING THROUGH PROBATE with all the tasks that the attorneys don’t do. We find that most people need help with cleaning out the houses, assist the executors in finding the right estate sell companies in the area, help with donating personal property the family doesn’t want. We even educate you with small recommendations that will improve the property to get a better price; because so many investors are trying to buy estate properties for 40-50% of their value. Some of our best clients have come from the PROBATED Estates. with understanding the family’s goals then offering you some options to choose from.
We have expertise in HELPING Personal Representatives get to their desired outcome FASTER, SMOOTHER, and with MUCH LESS STRESS! We have built an entire team and service hub around the probate process, that will allow YOU to focus on YOUR busy life and not worry about all the details.
Let the US help you gain COMPLETE control of the probate process. Working with the Probate Services team will reduce the stress of dealing with this major and this life transition.