Being asked to act as someone’s executor when they die can feel like an honour. For many people, agreeing to be the executor of a family member or loved one’s estate can be a quick and easy ‘yes’ in the moment. However, this role is a big responsibility with many duties and obligations that make it a decision worth thinking about.
What even is an Executor?
An executor of an estate carries out the wishes of a person after they die. Their duties include managing the estate within the terms of the Will and protecting the assets within the estate. Executors can be appointed by the person making the Will or, if no person is appointed prior to their death, by the Court. Breaching responsibilities can make the executor personally liable to pay the estate for any loss or damage suffered because of this breach.
The responsibilities of an executor will depend on the terms of the Will but here are 5 important ones you should have a think about before you say ‘yes’.
Arrange the funeral
As strange as it may seem, it is the executor of an estate that is responsible for the deceased’s body including any funeral arrangements. While it’s common for these arrangements to be made by family (which in many situations would include the executor) if disputes were to arise, the executor will need to make the final decision or (in the absolute worst case scenario), the executor will have to apply for direction from the court.
Notifications of death
The executor is also responsible to take steps to notify the appropriate organisations and institutions of the deceased’s death. This would include notifying the deceased’s banks, the ATO, superfunds, Titles Office, the council, their phone, internet and electricity providers and so on. The executor is expected to comply with each organisation’s various procedures when it comes to notification and this would usually involve completing paperwork and supplying a copy of the death certificate or Will.
Identify and secure the assets of the estate
Another important responsibility of the executor is to identify and secure the assets of the estate. Depending on the specific assets in the estate, the executor might need to obtain a grant of probate with respect of the Will. A grant of probate is a Court order confirming that the Will is valid and that you, the executor, can deal with the assets as is set out in the terms of the Will. For this reason, it’s important the executor understands what the assets are and takes steps to secure them (i.e insuring them against potential loss).
Paying liabilities, including finalising tax returns
It’s exactly what it sounds like. Another role of the executor is to make arrangements to pay any of the deceased’s liabilities and finalise outstanding tax returns. This can be a lengthy process and would usually involve a collaborative effort between the executor, the estate lawyer and an accountant.
Distribution of estate
Executors are responsible for ensuring that the assets in the estate are distributed to the beneficiaries in accordance with the Will.
These are just a few of the responsibilities that are important to understand and consider before agreeing to be the executor of someone’s Will. It’s so important to really ask yourself whether this is something you are willing to take on and potentially take on immediately. People commonly agree to be an executor thinking it will be years before they have to think about it again however, this job means being ready as your legal responsibility could be called upon at any time.
Please note we no longer offer Estate Planning and Business Law as part of our legal services. We would be happy to refer you to one of our referral partners.