But as an executor's role doesn't kick in until after the will maker's death, what should executors (and testators) know about their obligations?
There are some basic principles that can keep this important role from becoming legally complicated or surprising. Check out these five legal tips that every executor worth his or her salt should know:
1. Executors Should Be Chosen Prior to Death.
A smart estate planning attorney will have suggested that the decedent (the person who is now deceased) nominate several persons to be the executor of his or her estate as part of the will or trust drafting process.
Testators typically choose someone who has been pre-approved by family members to mitigate future fights, but the executor's permission is not required.
2. Being an Executor Means Work.
As executor of even a small estate, there are many duties involved in administering the assets and wishes of the deceased person. These include:
These jobs may make the executor the target of scrutiny or frustration by family members and those waiting on inheritance assets.
3. Executors Pay Funeral Expenses.
One of the first duties of an executor is to make sure that once the deceased's body is laid to rest, the persons who performed funeral services are paid -- usually from the estate's funds, not out of the executor's pocket.
Most wills may require these expenses to be dealt with first by the executor along with other unsecured debts; many state laws require it.
4. A Bond May Be Required.
Many states require that for an executor to legally administer a will, he or she must post a bond with the state. Also known as a probate or estate bond, an executor purchases this bond in order to give some assurance that he or she will not disappear with the estate's assets.
Still, the bond requirement can potentially be waived by a provision in the deceased's will.
5. Executors Get Paid.
Usually a will or trust document entitles the executor to a percentage of the estate as compensation for managing and distributing the estate's assets. The amount of compensation may also be set by state law (e.g., 4% of the first $100,000 of assets managed in Ohio.)
To learn more about the obligations and benefits of an executor, head over to FindLaw's comprehensive section on Estate Administration.