In most wills, a person is appointed by a willmaker to be an 'executor'. This may be asked of the next-of-kin, who may wonder what this role entails – and whether it carries extra responsibilities and risks.
Acting as an executor involves administering the estate of a deceased person in accordance with their will. This includes making funeral arrangements, collecting the assets, paying the debt and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. It may also include obtaining a 'Grant of Probate', which is an application to the Court to formally approve the will and the executors powers under the will.
Responsibilities of the executor will be to:
- Secure the assets of the estate;
- Ensure all property is insured;
- Value the estate and itemise the valuations;
- Itemise the debts owing;
- Seek advice from an accountant regarding income tax returns for the deceased person and the estate;
- Centrelink, if the person was receiving a pension;
- Government authorities, shire/city councils, utilities, telecommunications companies;
- Insurance companies, superannuation;
- Transport authorities regarding vehicle registration and driver’s licence;
- Obtain a Grant of Probate if necessary;
- Pay all debts owing;
- Establish any trusts that were created in the will;
- Distribute the estate in accordance with the will including preparing distribution statements for each of the beneficiaries.
Communication is key
While undertaking these important tasks, an executor should provide a prompt and proper response to any requests for information by beneficiaries. They must keep proper accounts and give beneficiaries full information about the money and property held by them.
An executor must act impartially, and with due diligence and prudence while discharging their duties.
Generally, one year is considered a reasonable time to wind-up the estate. Being an executor is not always easy, so it is always advisable to seek legal advice from a lawyer even if there is no dispute between the beneficiaries. Any legal fees incurred in relation to the advice sought by an executor are usually paid by the deceased person’s estate.