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Understanding the Roles and Responsibilities of an Executor

Understanding the Roles and Responsibilities of an Executor
November 6, 2023

What happens when you're named an executor of someone's will?

I want to start this article by explaining that we are only using the term “executor” because it is the more popular term. In Florida, the executor’s role is formally known as a “Personal Representative” or “PR.”

A personal representative or executor has to go through the probate process and manage all of the estate's assets and debt, usually under the supervision of a probate attorney.

It sounds like such a simple achievement, but lots of complexities can actually apply.

Often, somebody who is named as an executor learns a lot about what these individuals have to do with an estate. They learn about modern processes for tasks like:

  • Identifying assets
  • Distributing wealth
  • Working with beneficiaries and creditors
  • Disclosing the death to the public
  • Working with funeral expenses

Those are just a few things that an executor needs to do according to the estate's assets and worth. 

Here's more on what you might face as an executor of someone's estate, working through a probate process.

Going Through the List: Dealing with Assets as an Executor

One of the first things an executor needs to do is take control of the deceased person's assets for the estate.

That means:

  • Getting the keys to all owned properties, like a home or rental building
  • Finding and obtaining someone's checkbook and credit cards
  • Getting assets into safe deposit boxes

In the state of Florida, executors have to report assets to the court within 60 days, so it's important to accomplish these things pretty quickly.

After this gathering of the assets, the executor has to work with all stakeholders to distribute these assets according to what's in the will and according to state law.

Who Do I Tell? Creditors and Death Disclosure

In that formal process of filing assets with the court, the executor is making the estate transparent to any creditors … including potential creditors who are not yet identified. That means the executor has to publish notice of death in a newspaper or publication.

This is one of the more obscure requirements that an executor might not know about: your experienced estate and probate attorney can point you in the right direction. 

How Do I Manage Assets?

Here's another component of what executors have to do during probate: the executor also has to manage the assets reasonably.

For example, if someone has a rental property with active tenants, the executor has to work with the tenants, collecting the rent and accomplishing other landlord duties.

Otherwise, you could face legal challenges from beneficiaries and creditors if you took the assets of the estate and ran them in a negligent way.

What If I Find Cash Lying Around?

Some other kinds of assets are fairly simple, but there are also specific legal processes for an executor to follow.

For example, legal guidelines say that if you find 'stray cash' lying around the deceased person's home or other property, you're supposed to put that cash in an envelope in the presence of a witness and label it for estate purposes.

Dealing with the Debts of the Estate and Finding Out Who is Personally Liable

The executor should also look into whether the deceased has any significant debt that's easily recognizable and payable.

Creditors are going to want to be paid out of the estate.

Executors can also make it clear to beneficiaries what those debts are and how they impact what the beneficiaries will get from an estate.

Death and Taxes

The old saying goes that there are two eventualities that you can't escape: death and taxes.

The executor is responsible for dealing with the latter because of the former.

So, as an executor, you'll have to help file the final tax filing, an annual filing, or estate filing, as appropriate, based on the timeline of events and other factors. 

This Is All Really Complicated – Who Can Help? 

In general, executors often work with professional accountants and attorneys to manage an estate of any significant size. Florida law requires hiring a probate attorney in most cases.

If the person whose estate you're named executor for had a sprawling empire of bank accounts, rental properties, and other assets, you're probably going to want to get a good estate lawyer to help you.

Are the Executor and the Beneficiary the Same Person? 

The executor of an estate and the beneficiary may be the same person, but they don't have to be.

In some cases, where a deceased parent had two or three children, all may be named as executors, and all may be beneficiaries. Alternately, the oldest, or the oldest two, or any other two children may be named executors, and all three (or only some of those three) may be named as beneficiaries. Typically, when the deceased has only one child, that child may be both executor and beneficiary. 

In other cases, the parent may name a different executor for any number of reasons. 

Finalizing Probate Processes

Different states have different methods for finalizing a probate process for an estate.

In the state of Florida, executors follow a specific process for closing out an estate.

The following documents can help a lot and are generally instrumental:

  • Death certificate
  • Last Will
  • Deeds and titles
  • Tax returns
  • Life insurance documents
  • Financial statements
  • Documentation of funeral expenses

So, you can see that executors deal with a ledger of expenses and assets, balancing those two against each other.

Then, they come up with reasonable outcomes for beneficiaries, creditors, and anyone else involved in the probate process.

If you need a good estate planning lawyer in Florida, turn to the estate planning, probate, and Medicaid planning lawyers at Elder Needs Law PLLC. We are dedicated to helping the executors and beneficiaries of a will to figure out what they are entitled to and what they must do, according to Florida law. 

We know how to move an estate through local and state courts, which can be a lengthy and complicated process. It's easier with qualified legal assistance from a law firm that knows this practice area well. Be confident in your ability to serve as an executor and manage a person's estate after their passing. 

Jason Neufeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of Elder Needs Law, a Florida estate planning and elder law firm he created in 2017. With more than 15 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including Medicaid planning, estate planning, elder law, probate, Medicare, and life insurance.

Jason received his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami — School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Broward County Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named a Rising Star and Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers and among the Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend in 2024.

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