When you become an executor, you are granted the responsibility of handling and distributing the assets of an estate. However, if no executor is named in a will, probate court will take action to appoint someone. 
This article details everything involved in becoming the executor of an estate. We thought it was an interesting read, and have condensed it down to a few important bullet points for your review. Remember that this post is purely informational, and if you find yourself in any of these situations, you should consult with a trusted attorney first.
Understanding the duties of an executor
  • First, learn what an executor actually does. For example: File the will in probate court, find the deceased person’s assets and keep them safe, find creditors and pay off claims, contact anyone in debt to the deceased, pay taxes, distribute property, and liquidate and close the estate.
  • Understand liability potential. If you breach your duties as executor, the beneficiaries could potentially sue you in court.
  • Research potential compensation for your services, which varies by state.
  • Weigh the responsibilities before taking on the role of executor. A good executor should be careful, patient, organized and focused.

Becoming executor if named in will

  • Confirm that you have been named executor of the estate by finding and examining the will.
  • Check to ensure that you are eligible to serve. For example, some states do not allow convicted felons to serve as executors.
  • Do you satisfy residency requirements? In some states, a nonresident typically cannot serve as executor. 
  • Even if the will names you as the executor, you cannot officially act as executor until the court appoints you, so file a petition for probate as soon as possible.
  • Send notice to all beneficiaries named in the will and all legal heirs about the death and the probate hearing. 
  • Once the court approves an executor, that person gets “Letters Testamentary.” These letters allow the executor to act on behalf of the estate to close bank and credit card accounts, etc.

Requesting appointment as executor if not named in will

  • If you have determined you are qualified to serve as executor of the decedent’s estate, contact probate court to get the form necessary for appointment. 
  • Be sure to follow all instructions when completing the form, have the form notarized and identify if you need any additional documentation.
  • File your application in the court clerk’s office where the estate is held. To file your application, you will need to pay a filing fee.
  • Notify individuals with an interest in the estate that you are applying to be executor.
  • Obtain a surety bond if required, as some states require that the proposed executor post a bond insuring the value of the estate.
  • Attend the appointment hearing.

Handling a contestation of your appointment

  • If someone files an objection to your appointment, consult with a probate attorney to develop a trial strategy and schedule a trial.
  • Present your case to the judge. It is best to have your attorney with you, as probate issues can be complicated.
  • The judge will either rule on your appointment immediately or take the issue under advisement and issue a written ruling at a later date. If you are appointed, the court will prepare a certificate of appointment for you, which will designate you as executor. If you are not appointed, the judge will appoint another executor in your stead.

As we stated earlier, if you have any lingering questions regarding your role as executor, it’s always best to meet with an experienced estate attorney.