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An executor is a legal title for a person who administers a will. Writing a will is an essential part of estate planning. When writing a will, one generally names an executor of the estate to handle the distribution of assets. This named party often is paid a small sum, or a percentage of the assets in the estate, depending on how the will is stipulated, and upon how large a role this person must play.
Wills are governed by state law, so the rules for who can be an executor, and what exactly an executor does, vary slightly from state to state. Generally, this person must be named in the will at the time the will is written. The named party must be over eighteen years of age, of sound mind and body, and capable of carrying out the tasks of distributing the assets from a will.
In order for the designation to be valid, the person writing the will must follow the appropriate provisions in naming the executor of the estate. The will be must be written when the person whose estate it is is of sound mind and body, and the will must be witnessed by the appropriate number of parties- normally at least two. The will also must clearly spell out that all other wills are being revoked, and must be clear in naming the beneficiaries of the assets and the person who will execute the estate.
When a person with a will dies, the will enters the probate system. During this period, the executor reads the will and distributes the assets according to stipulations found within the document. Depending on the size of the estate, and the strength of the will, the court may also oversee the probate process to ensure that all assets are distributed correctly and according to legal rules within the jurisdiction and according to the wishes of the deceased.
People often name the attorney who helps them to prepare the will as the person who will distribute the estate's assets. However, there is no requirement that the designated executor be a person with legal knowledge, skill or ability. The named party can be anyone who is capable of carrying out the wishes of the deceased and distributing the assets.
The executor of the estate has a legal obligation to act in the interests of the deceased, and to carry out their wishes. This is referred to under the law as a fiduciary duty. It is the highest level of duty the law imposes.