Individuals who are in a position of managing someone else’s money are called fiduciaries. An executor of an estate is an example of someone who fulfills such a role.
An executor has two primary obligations. Their first one is to uphold a testator’s final wishes, as described in their will and other estate planning documents. Their second responsibility is to act in the decedent’s and their heirs’ best interests. Executors who fail to adhere to their obligations may face breach of fiduciary duty allegations. Violations can carry significant financial penalties.
Two of the first responsibilities that executors have are filing a testator’s will with the probate court and inventory of their assets. They must then notify any heirs of the testator’s passing and open a checking account for the estate. It’s also imperative that the executor makes a list of all the decedent’s debts and notifies creditors of the testator’s passing.
The executor will need to pay off all the testator’s debts and file their final income tax return before settling their estate. Pennsylvania also imposes an inheritance tax, so it may be necessary for them to pay that as well, depending on the size of the estate. An executor can only distribute any assets remaining in the estate as per the testator’s will once they’ve taken care of all these steps.
What happens if a testator fails to uphold their responsibilities?
Executors are obligated to preserve the value of a testator’s assets pending distribution to their heirs. They’re not supposed to engage in self-dealing, even if they feel pressured or believe their way of doing things would be better than what the testator prescribed. They must also be punctual in making any necessary payments to avoid penalties and interest. An executor may have to personally cover the value of any squandered assets or unnecessary expenses incurred.
Guidance in managing your role as executor
While the steps that some executors need to take are standard, there are some unique aspects to every case. An estate planning attorney can provide guidance to help ensure that you handle everything efficiently and without exposing yourself to legal liability when doing so.