Estate Planning: Understanding the Role of Executor

An executor is a key component in an estate plan. In the state of Florida, we formally refer to that person as the Personal Representative.  He or she is entrusted with safeguarding the property of a deceased person until all taxes and liabilities have been paid, and then disbursing the rest to the designated and/or eligible heirs.

Executors do not have to be experts in the law or financial matters, but they do need to be honest, diligent, and impartial, because they have a fiduciary duty, or a duty to act honestly and in good faith on behalf of others.

An executor’s duties will vary according to the financial and family circumstances connected to the estate. They include:

  • Finding and managing the decedent’s assets until they are distributed to the heirs. To settle outstanding financial obligations such as taxes, for example, they may be required to sell real estate holdings and other disposable assets.
  • Using estate funds to pay ongoing expenses such as utility bills and mortgage payments.
  • Terminating leases, credit cards, and other obligations and notifying government agencies and banks of the person’s death.
  • Determining who the heirs are. If a will was left, the executor will use it as a guideline to determine who gets what. If not, they will have to determine who the heirs are according to Florida law.  Be aware that the surviving spouse is not necessarily entitled to 100% of the decedent’s estate without a will.
  • Filing the original will with the probate court.
  • Determining if probate court proceedings are necessary. Most jointly owned assets, such as real estate and bank accounts, will go to the surviving owner if rights of survivorship have been established.
  • Setting up an estate bank account to receive money owed to the decedent, such as stock dividends.

It may be preferable for the executor to live in the same state as you, though this is not necessarily a requirement. Likewise, it does help if they have experience managing money and dealing with lawyers and accountants. They should also be willing to commit to the time needed to settle your estate, which can take up to two years.

Most people choose relatives or close friends to act as their executor, but because the job can be fairly complex, it’s important to select someone who is responsible and competent. If you have no one close to you who could successfully manage your estate, professionals such as attorneys or accountants can be hired for a fee, which is usually derived from the estate. It may be worthwhile to explore this option, as such parties have the training to interact with legal and tax professionals and can help your heirs receive their inheritance on a timely basis.

If you’ve got questions about this matter or about estate planning in general, we are always happy to help. Please reach out to us today!