The primary purpose for the executor is to carry out the instructions of the Will. This is done by gathering the assets, liquidating them, if necessary, paying the administrative expenses, and then distributing assets to the beneficiaries. The court gives the executor legal authority to transfer title to the decedent's assets.
The executor is entitled to compensation for the work that needs to be done, which can be extensive. The executor can be personally liable, if anything is done improperly, so he/she generally needs to have an attorney to assist him/her.
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The executor is the personal representative of the estate and his/her role is to carry out the terms of the will. That includes gathering all the assets, seeing that all debts are paid, and in general carrying out the terms of the will.
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With all respect to the terrific answers given by my colleagues, I have a slightly different way of describing wills, probate estates and executors to my clients:
An estate is like a business (somewhat like a small corporation, if you will).
It has a corporate charter--the will--which must be registered with a governmental authority to take on legal power.
It has shareholders--the beneficiaries.
It has management--the executor, or executrix.
It has assets and bank accounts, receives income, and pays taxes and bills.
Its "business" is to carry out the purposes contained in the will and the purposes required by law.
And when it has carried out all these purposes, and pays the beneficiaries the shares to which they are entitled under the will, it goes out of business.
Now, to your question concerning the role of the executor:
It is much the same as the role of a Board of Directors to its Shareholders. The executor or executrix is the actual legal representative of the deceased. He or she has the power to carry out transactions just as the deceased could during his or her lifetime. He or she has the power to buy, sell, pay taxes and bills, open and close bank accounts, and report to the beneficiaries. He or she owes the beneficiaries the obligation of honest, prudent and legal dealing, and full disclosure of every dollar and every dime received and spent on behalf of the estate, so that the estate may accomplish its purposes with a minimum of expense and a maximum of benefit.
Again, my colleagues have given you terrific answers, but I hope my answer along with theirs is also helpful.
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