If you have been appointed the executor of an estate, you may need to learn more about your duties. Executors are in charge of wrapping up people’s estates after they die. This important position has many responsibilities related to distributing property and handling taxes.
What Exactly Is an Executor?
An executor is a person appointed to settle a deceased person’s estate. “Estate” refers to the person’s assets, property, and other affairs that need to be dealt with after their death. As an executor, you help manage these affairs by accounting for all the assets and property, managing them until distribution, properly distributing them to heirs, and taking care of taxes and legal matters. You continue to have duties and powers until the deceased person’s estate is completely distributed and all related issues are settled.
Executors are either (1) appointed in a will document or (2) appointed by a court. The appointee can be anyone who survives the deceased person, and who is fit to carry out an executor’s duties. If the person named in the will cannot serve, then the court can appoint a replacement. Some people select family members as their executors, while others choose lawyers or professionals. If you have never served as an executor before, you may have questions about your duties under the law.
Executors have a few basic duties:
- Locate the contents of a deceased person’s estate, such as money in bank accounts and property
- Assess the estate’s value
- Maintain property while the estate is being settled
- Distribute the property to heirs in a timely and efficient fashion
- Wrap up the estate by paying taxes, closing accounts, etc.
Every estate is slightly different, so the steps an executor takes to manage the estate may not be the same for everyone. Essentially, the executor’s job is to “execute” or carry out the provisions in the will. The will should explain which heirs will receive portions of the estate (e.g. 50% to the children and 50% to the surviving spouse). The executor must determine how much the estate is worth and how to divide that amount among heirs. This may require selling off real estate or liquidating money locked up in retirement accounts.
In addition, an executor may need to report to the court about his or her progress. In some but not all estate matters, a court oversees the estate distribution to heirs. The executor may have to provide regular accountings to the judge and report on the steps he or she has taken to settle the estate.
The Duty of Care
Under Texas law, every executor has a specific duty of care. The law states:
“An executor or administrator of an estate shall take care of estate property as a prudent person would take of that person’s own property, and if any buildings belong to the estate, the executor or administrator shall keep those buildings in good repair […]”.
Texas Estates Code Section 351.101. In other words, the executor should act as any reasonable person would when they care for their own property. Estate property should be maintained, repaired, and monitored before it is distributed to the heirs. This could include paying a professional to fix something that breaks, paying bank account maintenance fees, or prudently investing estate money.
Not all executors are real estate professionals or accountants, so fulfilling the duty of care may require help. An executor can hire others to assist with estate management if needed. Fees for hiring professionals or fixing estate property come from the money in the estate.
Executors may have additional duties depending on the estate. For example, an executor has the authority to file a lawsuit on the estate’s behalf. If someone has injured the estate (such as by taking money from it illegally), then the executor has the duty to attempt to recover for the injury. An executor also must defend against any lawsuits brought by heirs or family members. The executor must work to ensure that the heirs receive as much of the estate’s value as possible.
Moreover, the executor should attempt to recover debts owed to the estate. The executor also should try their best to recover any estate property. For example, imagine a situation where you are the executor and believe that the deceased person owned a piece of land, but the title is nowhere to be found. You should take reasonable steps to locate the title and confirm ownership rights. Again, these duties are aimed at maximizing the estate’s contents so the heirs receive what they are due.
Need Advice on Fiduciary Duties? Call Us
At Henke, Williams & Boll, we help clients who have legal issues surrounding distribution of an estate. Our team of knowledgeable lawyers assist people involved in probate litigation regarding contested wills and trusts. We help find the best solution possible by tailoring advice to your unique situation. To set up a consultation with our firm, call 713-940-4500 or use our convenient Contact Form.