Executor Role and Duties for Asset Distribution

As a named executor, you should understand your role as a fiduciary for disposing of or distributing assets according to the available legal documents. It helps if you had a personal relationship with the decedent to better understand the person’s core beliefs, family dynamics and wishes after death. However, your primary role is to create a road map based on the legal documents at hand.

Legal documents may include a living trust, an up-to-date will (possibly with stipulations to create a trust after death), insurance policies and also business documents related to transfer or sale of those assets. Communication with a professional CPA and attorney experienced in estates is important for creating your roadmap as the named executor. It will also be important to communicate with named beneficiaries to ensure that they are aware of assets coming to them and when.

Proper naming of assets in a will is important to support the decedent’s wishes with regard to those assets. Other questions may arise regarding the proper set-up of requested trusts or distribution of assets out of a living trust. Because the executor’s role is so critical in this process, this person should prepare well ahead of the client’s or loved one’s death by seeking professional guidance.

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In the following video, Long Island CPA and Partner Robert E. White offers insights on the role of an executor.

Consider these tips for carrying out the role of executor:

  • The executor, whether a professional such as a CPA or a family member or friend, is ultimately responsible for disposing of and/or distributing assets of the decedent according to available legal and financial documents. This includes filing of the final tax return and payment of any estate tax owed.
  • Even if a will is deemed “not up-to-date,” the executor can only go by the most current will on file, so it’s important to review and update wills every few years.
  • Some assets may need to be sold or borrowed against if the estate is illiquid and insufficient to pay debts or estate taxes. Communicate with named beneficiaries as to which assets they prefer keeping or selling, if possible.
  • Unnamed beneficiaries do not typically have legal standing to determine the disposal of or distribution of assets. The executor should consult an attorney for support if faced with undocumented claims or challenges to the estate.

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