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What an Executor Can and Cannot Do

legal executor of assets

Being the executor of an estate is a significant responsibility. The executor is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will and ensuring the transfer of assets and the payment of liabilities in accordance with the law and the decedent’s estate plan. Importantly, there are boundaries to what an executor may or may not do. Below, we discuss the limitations on what an executor can do without running afoul of the law. For expert assistance identifying the proper heirs while administering an estate,call a professional forensic genealogist at Von Langen, LLC.

What Is an Executor?

An executor or executrix is a person named in a will or appointed by a court to administer the estate of a decedent. The executor is responsible for managing the assets in the will and ensuring that they pass in accordance with the will and the law.

What Can an Executor Do?

Executors manage the estate after the decedent’s passing. They’ll take all necessary steps to ensure that debts are paid and assets are transferred properly. Duties of the executor may include:

  • Identifying all of the decedent’s assets
  • Assisting with funeral arrangements
  • Commencing probate with the court
  • Establishing trust accounts to manage the estate’s finances
  • Identifying heirs to the estate
  • Notifying heirs and other interested parties
  • Paying the decedent’s debts with estate assets
  • Transferring assets and funds to the heirs under the will and/or state intestacy laws
  • Closing the estate

The executor will make a lot of decisions and take a lot of actions with regard to the estate assets before they are finally distributed. It’s important for the executor to understand their responsibilities, both under the terms of the will and the letter of the law.

What Can an Executor Not Do?

Executors do not have free reign with estate assets. They must work within the confines of the will and the law. They also owe a fiduciary duty to the estate, meaning they must manage estate assets in the best interests of the beneficiaries. An executor may not:

  • Begin executing the will before the testator passes away
  • Take actions as executor–other than commencing probate–before being officially appointed by the court
  • Sign an unsigned will on behalf of the testator; if they died without a signed will, then there’s no will, regardless of any oral agreements
  • Engage in self-dealing
  • Waste estate assets
  • Engage in risky investments or otherwise mismanage the estate’s finances
  • Change or refuse to follow the terms of the will without legal justification and a court order
  • Refuse to pay the estate’s debts
  • Sell assets for less than fair market value without the agreement of the beneficiaries
  • Prevent the beneficiaries or other parties from contesting the will

Executors who mismanage estate assets are open to liability. They can be sued by beneficiaries and may even be held in contempt of court. If you’re administering an estate, make sure you understand your duties and have a plan for how to execute them properly.

If you’re an estate administrator in need of dedicated assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact an expert, diligent forensic genealogist at Von Langen, LLC at 561-748-2936.