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What is the role and duties of an executor of an estate?

Posted by attorney Vincent LoCoco

The executor of an estate is the person designated in a will as the individual who is responsible for performing a number of tasks necessary to wind down the decedent’s affairs. Generally, the executor’s responsibilities involve taking charge of the deceased person’s assets, notifying beneficiaries and creditors, paying the estate’s debts and distributing the property to the beneficiaries.

Under Louisiana law, there is no prohibition from the executor also being a beneficiary of the will, though he or she must treat all beneficiaries fairly and in accordance with the provisions of the will.

Obtain the will

First and foremost, an executor must obtain the original, signed will as well as other important documents such as certified copies of the death certificate. The executor presents the will for probate with the court and seeks to be appointed as the executor in that same pleading which is filed with the court.

Notify persons with interests

Once appointed by the court, the executor must notify all persons who have an interest in the estate or who are named as beneficiaries in the will. A list of all assets must be compiled, including value at the date of death. The executor must take steps to secure all assets, whether by taking possession of them, or by obtaining adequate insurance. Assets of the estate include all real and personal property owned by the decedent; overlooked assets sometimes include stocks, bonds, pension funds, bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, annuity payments, holiday pay, and work-related life insurance or survivor benefits.

Compile a list of debts

The executor is responsible for compiling a list of the decedent’s debts, as well. Debts can include credit card accounts, loan payments, mortgages, home utilities, tax arrears, alimony and outstanding leases. All of the decedent’s creditors must also be notified and given an opportunity to make a claim against the estate.

Pay debts with the assets of the estate

Once the executor has this legal authority, he or she must pay all of the decedent’s outstanding debts, provided there are sufficient assets in the estate. After debts have been paid, the executor must distribute the remaining real and personal property to the beneficiaries, in accordance with the wishes set forth in the will. Because the executor of an estate is accountable to the beneficiaries, it is extremely important to keep complete, accurate records of all expenditures, correspondence, asset distribution, and filings with the court and government agencies.

File tax returns

The executor of an estate is also responsible for filing all tax returns for the deceased person including federal and state income tax returns and estate tax filings, if applicable. Additional tasks may include notifying carriers for homeowner’s and auto insurance policies and initiating claims on life insurance policies.

Right to receive compensation

The executor is entitled to compensation for his or her services. In Louisiana, the minimum fee is set by statute. It is equal to 2 1/2 percent of the gross estate of the decedent. The fee may be subject to review depending on the complexity as well as the time and effort expended by the executor. The fee is treated as income to the executor and must be reported as income on their personal tax return.

Right to hire an attorney and/or CPA

The executor also has the absolute right to hire an attorney and a CPA to assist with the handling of the estate, all of their own choosing. Even if an attorney is listed in the will as the attorney for the estate, Louisiana law recognizes the right of the executor to choose who they wish to work with in handling the estate.

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