How to Be an Executor of an Estate

You may be called on one day to administer an estate.  If so, don’t dwell on the idea as an honor, although being appointed may be an honor.  Instead, get ready to get to work, as you’ve taken on a lot of serious responsibility by being the Executor of an Estate.

Executor Buried in Paperwork

Picture of stacks of paperwork for an Executor to tackle.

What is an Executor and what are the Responsibilities of Being an Executor?

A Last Will and Testament appoints an Executor.  An estate where there is no will has an Administrator.  These two roles are essentially the same; an Executor administers an estate according to the terms of the Will and an Administrator administers an estate according to the laws of intestacy.   The Tennessee Code now uses the interchangeable term Personal Representative for both an executor and an administrator.  The probate court must appoint, give an oath to, and issue authorizing papers to an estate representative.  Your basic task is to carry out the terms of the will, if there is one, and, whether or not there is a will, to administer the decedent’s assets, pay any debts, and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.

Executor Checklist

Here is a rundown of the basic steps involved in administering an estate:

  • Get your hands on the Will, if there is one, and get an estate attorney (optional, but highly recommended).
  • Study the Will. You’re responsible to the decedent and the court to carry out its directives.
  • Obtain an original death certificate.
  • Make arrangement for a bond with the court unless bond is waived.
  • Get appointed by the probate court to serve as the estate representative.
  • Prepare to file an inventory of assets and periodic court accountings, unless inventory and accountings are waived.
  • Take steps to secure the decedent’s property. It’s now your responsibility if there is a loss of property.
  • Obtain a tax ID number for the estate and open an estate bank account.
  • Report the estate to TennCare, whether or not the decedent obtained TennCare benefits.
  • Identify and locate all assets in which the decedent had any ownership interest.
  • Locate any life insurance policies and retirement benefits the decedent had.
  • Decide if any of the decedent’s property needs to be appraised.
  • Obtain recent tax returns of the decedent and decide how to handle income tax obligations.
  • Obtain and study recent bank account statements of the decedent.
  • Manage any investments the decedent had.
  • Communicate regularly with estate beneficiaries.
  • Deal with any debts and creditors of the estate.
  • Pay necessary estate administration expenses, e.g. an accountant preparing tax returns.
  • Decide how and when distributions will be made to estate beneficiaries.
  • Determine and get court approval for any estate representative and estate attorney fees.
  • File a petition and obtain a court order closing the estate.

As you can see, being an Executor is much more than just writing a few checks to the deceased’s beneficiaries.  There is a substantial amount of work to be done to wrap up an individuals final affairs.  The more disorganized and diversified the deceased is in their financial record-keeping, the more work there will be to do.

An Executor is a Fiduciary

At all times, remember you are under a very high standard of doing things right.  It’s called ‘being a fiduciary.’  You owe a duty, and the court will hold you to the duty, of acting fairly and impartially, as well as competently and correctly.  You must act with the best interest of the estate beneficiaries, not your own interest, foremost in your mind.  This is not a task to be undertaken lightly or carelessly.  It’s a duty of the utmost importance and will call upon your very best behavior and abilities.

Are You an Executor Who Could Use Some Help?

If you find yourself named as the executor in a loved one’s Will and would like more information about what your responsibilities are, contact us through this site our call us at 931-398-5200.  Our probate and estate administration attorneys can assist you in all aspects of administering the Estate and fulfilling your duties in accordance with the law.

If you need help deciding who to appoint as your Executor in you Will, our estate planning attorneys would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of each potential personal representative to help you make the best decision possible.