Personal Resource Center

What it Means to be Executor of a Will

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What does it take to be a will executor? There are multiple requirements in this complex process. It's important to understand them before starting.

Is my temperament right for the task?

You'll need tremendous patience and the ability to remain level-headed under stressful circumstances, especially while you're grieving. Not only will you confront distinct personalities with the myriad strangers you'll interact with, but you'll also need to deal with grieving family members. It's important to set boundaries with others while you do this work to avoid taking on too much or getting abused.

If the family dynamics are challenging, you'll need finesse to manage disputes and a thick skin, especially if there are co-executors. Meeting your fiduciary responsibilities as you sort through financial and legal matters also requires transparency with all those you'll interact with in this process.

Do I understand the requirements?

Executors are entirely responsible for dealing with the disposition of the deceased's financial and physical property.1 A properly drafted will gets set up under the state law where your loved one lives. You must strictly follow the will and those state laws for all you do, from contacting creditors and heirs, filing forms and completing state taxes to paying funeral expenses and publishing death notifications.4

You must also deal with grieving family members, who may put pressure on you to give them “their portion" of the estate. You must make them understand it's illegal to release anything from the estate until its taxes and debts get settled entirely,2 so getting any inheritance could take weeks, months, or longer.

It's one reason you change the locks on or lock up all the deceased's property — including heirlooms and other valuables. It's not uncommon for heirs to descend on their deceased's house and begin removing property. When making distributions to heirs, require them to sign documents releasing you from further liability.

You are personally liable for any mistakes or misrepresentations, which could lead to fines or the reimbursement of heirs from your personal resources.4 To prevent problems, search the American Bar Association's site for “guidelines for executors and trustees" to get this right.5 But this is such a daunting task, you also might consider consulting or even hiring a lawyer to complete this process for you.

Can I afford the costs?

There may be upfront costs you'll initially need to pay in the process of settling the estate. And the more complex the estate, the more expenses there are. While you can ultimately get reimbursed for expenses (provided you track them and save receipts), you won't be paid until the process is over.

Before deciding to become an executor, you should determine whether you could afford the upfront costs — and whether or not there will be enough left in the estate to repay you for your time and expenses. You will be paid only after all debts for the estate get satisfied, but before beneficiary distributions.6

Each state has laws determining how an executor gets paid, so be certain you the executor reimbursement laws in the state where the deceased lived. Also know any payment you receive from the estate for your services is taxable income.5

Some states allow executors to charge for their time by the hour. Others require them to request a percentage of the estate's value7 as payment for your services. Ultimately, you can request reasonable reimbursement for expenses — and your time. This includes reimbursement for:

  • Travel expenses.
  • Time missed from work (especially if you get paid hourly).
  • Legal expenses (if you need to consult a lawyer).
  • Administrative expenses (like fees for documents like death certificates or copies you must pay to get).
  • Repairs on estate property that you sell.
  • Other costs associated with managing the estate's property.

If I decide to accept, where do I start?

This process starts before the loved one dies. Have a conversation with them about their will. Learn where all documents and valuables are, and ask they get put in one place. Push to learn any secrets — like a hidden lover getting a bequest — that might complicate executing the will.

Ask the loved one to write a letter of direction to guide you in your duties, including about their funeral and interment. You can also request that they write a letter for the family that explains decisions in the will.

Taking a few steps when your loved one is still alive can help streamline the process of you acting as the executor once they're gone.

Important disclosure information

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. Katherine Reynolds Lewis, "A Step-by-Step Guide to Being an Estate Executor," Kiplinger. Published September 17, 2020, accessed August 4, 2022. Back
  2. Sharon Waters, "How to Be a Good Executor of a Will or Estate," AARP, May 7, 2021, accessed August 4, 2022. Back
  3. USPS, "Mail Addressed to the Deceased," n.d., accessed August 4, 2022. Back
  4. Carol Fleck, "Things to Know About Being an Executor of Estate," AARP, May 2013, accessed August 4, 2022. Back
  5. American Bar Association, "Guidelines for Individual Executors &Trustees," n.d., accessed August 4, 2022. Back
  6. Andrew Beattie, "5 Things to Consider Before Becoming an Estate Executor," Investopedia, February 25, 2021, accessed August 4, 2022. Back
  7. Mary Randolph, "Do I Receive Payment for Serving as Executor?," Mary Randolph, J.D., AllLaw, n.d., accessed August 4, 2022. Back