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When someone passes away, there needs to be a person in charge of settling all of the deceased's business and disposing of his or her property in the manner specified in the will. Typically, a probate executor who is named within the person’s will does this job. A probate executor’s job is essentially to ensure that the person who has died — called the decedent — has all of his or her affairs in order prior to distributing property. He or she will collect and account for all the decedent’s assets, pay any taxes or claims due for the decedent, and distribute the remaining estate according to the decedent’s will. There are some circumstances where the person named as probate executor will be disqualified from performing such duties, however.
The first job that the probate executor is asked to handle is the collection and accounting of all the decedent’s assets. It is not necessary that all assets be physically accumulated into one area. Rather, the important consideration is that all the assets are accounted for and accessible.
Next, the probate executor must pay any debts that the estate may be liable for. The bulk of these debts are typically estate taxes that are incurred when the decedent’s estate is admitted to probate — i.e., it is determined which assets comprise the decedent’s estate and those assets are prepared for distribution. Additionally, the estate is liable for any debts that the decedent had prior to death, and the probate executor must ensure that they are paid off.
The final duty of the probate executor is usually to distribute what remains of the decedent’s estate after paying off all his or her debts. If the decedent executed a valid will prior to his or her death, its contents explain the manner of distribution. However, if there is no will, the probate executor is to follow the advice of the estate attorney for appropriate procedure when the decedent dies intestate, i.e., without a will.
There are some qualifications to being a probate executor, and while they vary across jurisdictions, there are three common rules that are generally followed. First, the named person must be the age of majority within the jurisdiction. Second, the named person must be of sound mind and capable of conducting the necessary duties. Last, if the person is neglectful in acting as probate executor, which results in harm to the estate, any named party within the will may file an action to have him or her removed from the position.
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