When a family member or friend asks someone if he or she would be willing to act as the executor of a will, most people will say yes, without hesitation. However, few are truly aware of the responsibilities that role entails. When agreeing to act as an executor, you are agreeing to do much more than simply clean out a house or disburse money.
An article published by Morgan Stanley wealth advisors in January, 2017 describes in detail the multiple responsibilities taken on by a named executor. Further, it highlights the fact that this is both an emotional as well as an administrative task. Many people who have been tasked with acting in this role one time will often make the statement that they would never agree to do it again. This is the result of a lack of understanding of the probate process prior to an agreement to act. Some of the responsibilities of an executor include locating and providing the probate court with an original will, securing and maintaining estate property throughout the entire process, locating and notifying heirs, notifying and paying creditors, paying taxes, and distributing assets. This is not an exhaustive list. Each step must be carefully documented and proof of every transaction filed with the probate court.
The process is a long one, almost always taking at least six months to complete. In situations where an heir or other party contests the will, it can take up to years to litigate and close out. Maintaining assets during that time will be the responsibility of the executor. For example, if the decedent owned a home, the executor will be tasked with the responsibility of maintaining and securing that property for as long as the probate process takes. Also, if a decedent owned multiple assets, sometimes in different states, the matter becomes much more complicated in that an ancillary estate must be probated in those states.
Prior to agreeing to act as an executor of a will, it is highly advisable that a consult be scheduled with a probate attorney who can help gain a clear understanding of what will be expected of you.