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The honor and duty of being executor of a will

Photo of Karen Lavin

Someone you know has just named you to be the executor of his or her will. Maybe it was a parent or sibling, an old friend or someone from work who has no family and considers you trustworthy. As much of an honor as this may seem, administering an estate is also an incredible responsibility.

If you are fortunate enough to know of your designation ahead of time, you have an advantage because you can gain some understanding about what the job requires, along with your obligations. However, if this appointment came as a surprise after someone's death, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. You may be wondering what to expect and if there are any negative contingencies you should prepare for before you begin.

Taking care of business

The first thing you can expect when acting as the executor of someone's will is that it will take your time. When most people think of administering a will, they may imagine gathering the heirs together for a reading of the will, then distributing the deceased's assets according to his or her wishes. However, before any of that happens, you must tie up the loose ends of the estate, for example:

  • Paying any bills the decedent owed at the time of death
  • Contacting creditors to let them know of the death
  • Contacting other agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and the IRS
  • Canceling services such as subscriptions, utilities and lawn care
  • Filing the deceased's last tax return

These items, among others, take time and may even take money from your pocket. The law usually permits executors to use the estate's checking account for any expenses, so it is best to keep careful records.

Disputes from within and without

One of the most frustrating parts of being an executor is dealing with disputes. If you are a co-executor, for example with your siblings, you may have disagreements with them about how to manage the estate, especially if it becomes necessary to liquidate any assets to pay creditors. Additionally, having multiple executors means needing multiple signatures on any documents. This could prove difficult if not all of the executors live in Illinois.

Other disputes may arise among the heirs. Since it is your responsibility to distribute the assets, your duties include the protection of the decedent's property from would-be heirs who feel entitled to help themselves before the estate has completed probate. This may require some strong words and quick actions to secure the property and protect it until the court settles the estate. Denying potential heirs access to the deceased's property may cause some to feel resentful toward you.

While some elements of administering a will may be straightforward and manageable, you may find others frustrating and confusing. Fortunately, you can seek advice from an attorney for assistance in your duties as an estate executor.

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