The person designated within a will as the party responsible for finalizing the deceased’s estate is the executor. The executor responsibilities include having the will probated, managing the estate until such time as it is liquidated, settling all debts of the estate, and distributing the estate amongst the heirs. An executor might be a family member or a professional hired specifically to manage the estate.
Completing the executor responsibilities is not an easy task. The executor has a fiduciary duty to all of the heirs to the estate to make good decisions on the estate's behalf. In cases wherein the executor is an heir of the estate, such person generally is not paid to complete the executor responsibilities. When a professional is hired to complete the duties, then that person is paid for such work.
Depending upon the complexity of the estate, the executor may hire an attorney or an accountant, or both, to complete all of the executor responsibilities. Once the will has been probated and a court certifies the executor, the work of settling the estate begins. It often is a good idea for the executor to open a bank account specifically for the estate in order to accurately document the movement of funds into and out of the estate.
The executor is responsible for finding all of the heirs to the estate. This process should begin soon after the will is probated in the event that any of the heirs are difficult to locate. Once the heirs are located, they should be notified that they stand to inherit something from the estate, but that no disbursement will occur until the executor and his or her advisers deem it possible. The disbursement of an estate might occur upon the liquidation of the entire estate or in several stages, depending upon the estate's complexity.
All taxes owed by the estate must be paid as part of the executor responsibilities as well. The executor should receive some documentation from the government stating that all taxes owed by the estate have been paid in full. Failure to acquire this documentation could be considered a breach of the executor’s fiduciary duty. Once all debts of the estate, including those due to the executor's advisers or to the executor himself, have been paid in full, the executor authorizes the final liquidation of the estate. Upon liquidation, the executor pays the heirs their shares of the estate in accordance with the will.