Today we will discuss the basic duties and responsibilities of an executor or an administrator.
But first, what is an executor? An executor is someone who is legally responsible for sorting out the affairs of the deceased individual. The executor must carry out their duties diligently, impartially, and honestly. An executor who fails to do so may be held personally liable by a court of law. Each state has its own requirements as to who can serve as an executor or administrator but generally, the roles are very similar. The position of executor is a paid position and each state provides its own rules for executor compensation. However, because executors are usually close family members, many executors forgo their compensation.
And what is an administrator? An administrator is someone who is appointed by the Surrogate Court to be legally responsible for the decedent’s affairs. The difference between an estate executor and an estate administrator depends on if the deceased left a will, named an executor, or if the named executor declined the appointment. Therefore, if the decedent did not leave a will (dying intestate), does not name an executor in their Will, or a listed executor declines the appointment, the court will choose the administrator of the estate. The administrator must then make sure the estate is settled according to New York intestacy laws which is what an executor does anyways.
Both the Executor and the Administrator are responsible for making sure that debts and taxes are paid and that what remains in the estate is distributed properly to the heirs of the estate, according to the wishes of the decedent. Both executors and an administrator have the same responsibilities to the state and to the deceased’s beneficiaries.
The Executor’s or Administrator’s Responsibilities Include The Following:
- Determine If Probate Is Necessary
Probate is the legal procedure an estate goes through after someone passes away. This procedure is how the surrogate court will start the process of distributing the estate to the proper heirs that the decedent designates. Many assets can be transferred to beneficiaries simply by law (and avoid the probate process) such as jointly held assets or assets that have beneficiary designations (ie. life insurance policies). If all of the decedent’s property falls into this category probate may not be necessary. Additionally, the decedent may have transferred all of their property to a revocable (living) trust which similarly does not need to go through probate. If, however, the decedent owned assets outright, meaning they’re simply stated in a will, those assets do not automatically transfer upon their death. Instead, probate will be required and the executor or administrator will need to file a petition with the court to be legally assigned as the executor. It is highly advisable to work with an attorney to probate the estate.
- File the Original Will With the Local Surrogate Court
The executor is responsible for locating, reading, and understanding the will to determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets. Generally, only an original will can be submitted to the surrogate court to go through probate. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist with this duty.
- Notify Financial Institutions & Government Agencies of the Decedent’s Death
The executor should notify the decedent’s banks, credit card companies, and government agencies like the Social Security Administration of the decedent’s death.
- Set up a Bank Account for Incoming Funds and Pay Any Ongoing Bills
The executor has to set up an estate account with a bank so the decedent’s assets can be transferred to it. The account will be used for the ultimate distribution of the assets to any creditors and heirs. The executor should also use this account to pay the decedent’s mortgages, utilities, and other bills that still need to be paid throughout the probate process.
- Maintain the Property Until It Can Be Distributed or Sold
The executor has to find, protect and preserve all of the decedent’s assets until they can be distributed. This includes any real property (houses, cars, boats, etc...) owned by the decedent until it is distributed to heirs or sold.
- Pay the Estate’s Debts and Taxes
The executor is obligated to pay the decedent’s debts if there are sufficient assets in the estate to cover them. The executor must also file income tax returns starting from January 1st of the current year until the date of the decedent’s death. If the estate is large enough, a Federal estate tax return will need to be filed. Also, if the decedent’s estate exceeds the estate tax exemption in the year of the decedent’s death, state and federal estate taxes may have to be paid.
- Distribute Assets
The most common responsibility of the executor or administrator is that they must distribute the decedent’s assets pursuant to the will’s directives. This is after a surrogate court judge has validated the will. If there is no will, state intestacy laws apply and the administrator will carry out almost all of the same responsibilities as an executor.
- File an Inventory of the Estate’s Assets With the Court
Once the executor knows all the assets in the estate and distributes them pursuant to the will the executor must file an inventory of the assets with the Surrogate Court.
How can an estate lawyer help
Since each estate varies in size and complexity, an executor’s job may be fairly simple or very challenging to carry out. Responsibilities may very well go beyond the 10 common duties in this list. Consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney is certainly recommended.
For further estate planning assistance, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2395 to receive the most highly qualified legal advice.