Let’s say you’ve been named the executor of a will. What exactly does that mean? What responsibilities and limitations do you have? From notifying the heirs of an estate to managing someone’s assets, you now possess a whole host of complex responsibilities. In this post, the Greenwald Law Firm is here to help you know what you can and cannot do as an executor of a will. At first glance, it sounds straightforward. However, once you really dive into the weeds about the limits of your role, it becomes overwhelming.

What you need is a knowledgeable and reliable Shreveport estate planning lawyer with the Greenwald Law Firm. We maintain up-to-date knowledge of all estate planning laws in Louisiana, and our attorneys are well practiced. For an undoubtedly qualified estate planning lawyer, or for a Shreveport succession attorney, you need Joseph Greenwald, Jr. Request a free consultation today by calling 318-219-7867, or fill out our online intake form. We’ll reach out to you as soon as possible and find a solution together.

What is the executor of a will?

One day, someone might ask you to become the executor of their will. The first thing to note is that whoever asks this of you has a high opinion of your integrity. An executor is essentially someone who settles the estate of another person once they pass away. In other words, it’s a big responsibility. Some of the tasks you’ll likely encounter are paying off debts, paying taxes, and making sure assets end up in the right hands. At first glance, this seems like a straightforward obligation.

But what if the person for whom you are the executor did not keep a current will? What if their assets are spread out and hard to find, or if someone contests the will? These situations get complicated very quickly, so it is essential to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer before things get worse. If you are not yet an executor, it is an even better idea to consult with an attorney if someone asks you to serve as the executor for their will. This way, any potential issues or roadblocks you might face will be pointed out to you prior to accepting the position as executor.

What are executors typically responsible for doing?

Executors are responsible for a multitude of different duties on behalf of the author of the will. Before you accept your role as executor, the Greenwald Law Firm outlined a helpful list of primary responsibilities. Read through these, and speak with your attorney to determine whether this role is right for you.

  1. Prepare: Hiring an attorney in Shreveport is a good starting point for organization and handling legal issues. Additionally, you may consider hiring an accountant.
  2. Interview: If possible, speak with the author of the will. Locate the will, access to financial assets, and funeral plans.
  3. Obtain: As the executor, you should have the latest, original copy of the will, as well as any trusts the person has.
  4. Plan: The funeral is very important. Remember that funeral expenses come out of the estate. That means the amount going to beneficiaries depends partly the funeral’s expenses.
  5. Record: Be sure to keep everything as organized as possible, and document every step of the process. Keep track of the hours you work, as well as the estate’s finances.
  6. File: Once the person for whom you are an executor passes, obtain the death certificate, and several copies of it. Then, have your attorney help you file the will with the probate court. (See our blog: How Long Does Probate Take?)
  7. Notify: Sometimes, creditors or businesses are involved and should be notified of the death. This will aid with life insurance payments, fraud alerts, and final bills.
  8. Find, value, protect: With your lawyer’s help, locate all assets of the deceased, document their value, and document them. This helps to protect the assets.
  9. Manage: Begin by creating an account in the estate’s name. Then, pay all the necessary bills for the property. Eliminate wasted services, like cable, internet, or membership fees. This allows for more money to go toward the beneficiaries.
  10. Pay: Find out what debts the estate incurred, and pay them. Also, pay all bills and file taxes on behalf of the estate.
  11. Sell: Plan for the sale or distribution of the property with your estate lawyer. During this process, communicate with the beneficiaries often. Sell any real estate not distributed to a beneficiary.

Does an executor have to serve, or can they refuse the responsibility?

If, after reading, you decide that the role of executor is not for you, the court will allow you to decline the role. Even if someone names you as the executor to their will, the court still needs to appoint you after you accept. During the appointment process, you may decline. After you decline, the court will consult the will for a backup executor. If the decedent (will author) named a backup executor, they will be appointed unless they decline. In the absence of a backup executor, the court will seek out a personal representative or estate administrator to perform the duties of an executor. 

Do executors get paid?

Generally, yes. How much an executor receives as compensation depends on the will, as well as state law. The executor receives compensation from the estate, no matter the amount. Executor fees intend to compensate the executor for their time and energy spent while managing the estate. Examples of how these fees are calculated include percentage rates, flat fees, or hourly rates. It is important to remember that executor fees are taxable income, at both the state and federal levels.

What an Executor Cannot Do

Now that we’ve explained what you can do as an executor, it’s time to explain what you cannot do. As executor, your duties lie with the beneficiaries of the estate. This means that you must act in the best interests of those beneficiaries, and manage the estate accordingly. Below, we list actions prohibited to an executor.

  • You may not carry out the will before the creator of the will passes away.
  • You may not sign an unsigned will. If the creator of the will passed away prior to signing the will, the will must then be managed under your state’s laws of intestate succession.
  • Do not take actions to manage the estate before the court appoints you as the executor.
  • Do not sell any assets for less than the listed fair market value, unless the beneficiaries of the will agree to it.
  • You may not change provisions within the will.
  • You may not stop the will’s beneficiaries from contesting the will.

Does an executor need a lawyer?

Absolutely. It is entirely possible to mismanage the estate of someone else. This has its own consequences. For this reason, it is imperative that you hire an experienced Louisiana estate lawyer to guide you through the process. Not every executor needs an attorney, but it never hurts to have one available, especially if the estate is especially complex or if this is your first time as an executor. For reliability, experience, and in-depth knowledge of Louisiana succession laws, you need attorney Joseph Greenwald of the Greenwald Law Firm. To set up your free consultation, call 318-219-7867 today, or fill out our online intake form.

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