When you create a Last Will and Testament, an important step is to choose someone you trust to be your executor. An executor is the person who has the legal duty to follow the directions listed in your Last Will.
After you pass away, your executor has the general task of sorting out your finances, including paying any outstanding debts you may have out of the remainder of your estate, and dividing your property and assets amongst your beneficiaries.
The executor of your Will is responsible for carrying out your wishes in the way you specified, but there are limits to what they can and can’t do.
This post goes into more detail about what you can and can’t ask your executor to do, in order to help you make an informed decision about who to choose for the role.
Things Your Executor Can Do
We’ve already covered the steps an executor would need to take to carry out a Will in a previous post, but have listed the general tasks below.
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, depending on the complexity of the testator’s (the person who made the Will) financial and family circumstances, an executor typically makes decisions about:
- How to manage the testator’s assets and property until they are distributed to beneficiaries or heirs
- Supervising the distribution of the testator’s property and assets
- How to handle property and asset inheritance, including who inherits real estate (as indicated in the Will)
- Validating the Will in probate court if needed
- Paying for debts, taxes, and other ongoing expenses
In short, the executor makes the majority of the decisions with regards to the distribution of the estate. Although they must follow the instructions in the deceased’s Will, they do have the power to make certain decisions if the testator did not express their wishes clearly or at all in their Will.
Keep in mind that the executor can also choose to refuse to act even if they are named in the Will. In these cases, the court can appoint a new executor.
Things Your Executor Can’t Do
An executor has the fiduciary duty to execute your Will to the best of their ability and in accordance with the law, but it can be difficult to determine the limits of their powers.
However, here are some examples of things an executor can’t do:
- Change the beneficiaries in the Will
- Stop the beneficiaries from contesting the Will
- Sign the Will on behalf of the testator, if it was not signed before the testator passed away
- Execute the Will before the testator has passed away
In general, if the beneficiaries named in the Last Will feel that the executor is not performing their duties to the letter, they can get the court involved and ultimately have the executor removed. In this case, the court will usually take care of the executor’s duties in place of choosing a new executor.
Your Executor’s Duties
Being an executor can be quite a bit of work, so it’s important to choose someone that you trust and discuss your wishes with them to make sure they are up to the task.
At any rate, your Last Will and Testament should be as detailed as possible so that in the event that your executor changes their mind and the court needs to take over, the process of executing your Will can still go relatively smoothly.