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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we explain what an executor is and the responsibilities they owe to the beneficiaries of the estate.  We answer the questions “what is an executor?”, “what are the responsibilities of an executor to a beneficiary?”, “what is a fiduciary duty?”, and “is the executor required to give an accounting of the estate to beneficiaries?”.

What is an Executor?

An “executor” is a person appointed by the deceased’s (decedent’s) will to manage the decedent’s estate for the benefit of the heirs and beneficiaries of the will.  If the decedent did not have a valid will at the time of death, there cannot be an executor, so an “estate administrator” will be appointed by the court to fill the role.  A “trustee” refers to the individual responsible for managing assets owned by the trust, for the benefit of the beneficiaries.  Although the roles vary slightly, an executor, estate administrator or trustee are commonly referred to as an estate’s “personal representative.”

What are the Responsibilities of an Executor to a Beneficiary?

Being an executor is a big responsibility.  As executor, you take control of the assets, bank accounts, estate and debt of the decedent, and manage the accounting and distribution of assets to creditors and beneficiaries.  The executor is also responsible for notifying the beneficiaries and known creditors of the decedent’s passing. Other responsibilities of an executor to a beneficiary include:

  1. Ensure the will is properly filed with the court where the deceased resided;
  2. File a petition for probate within 30 days of the decedent’s passing.  Once the probate case is open, the court will officially name an executor of the estate and the process can continue;
  3. Notify all beneficiaries, banks, credit card companies, debt collectors and government agencies of the decedent’s death.  This must be done within the first three months once the probate case is filed with the court;
  4. File an inventory of the estate’s assets with the court, including the value of the estate, receipts or documentation of each transaction that has occurred since the case was opened, and total all of the decedent’s debt;
  5. Use assets from the estate to pay off all debts;
  6. Present a final and full accounting of the estate’s assets with the court; and
  7. Distribute remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the decedent’s will.

What is a Fiduciary Duty?

When the court appoints an executor, they give this individual a lot of power to control the assets of the decedent’s estate.  A fiduciary duty is a legal responsibility the law places on individuals that have been entrusted with obligations on behalf of others.  This applies to all “personal representatives” that can be named for the benefit of the beneficiaries affected by the decisions of the appointed individual.  Fiduciary duties can come in many forms, such as:

  • Duty of Loyalty;
  • Duty to Act Impartially;
  • Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care;
  • Duty to Preserve Property;
  • Duty to Account; and
  • Duty to Manage Claims.

Personal representatives are expected to uphold the highest degree of fidelity, as they were given control in good faith of the deceased and his or her family.  For more detailed information about fiduciary duties and what they mean, see our article entitled Duties of Executors and Trustees to Beneficiaries and Heirs of Illinois Estates.

Is the Executor Required to Give an Accounting of the Estate to Beneficiaries?

A final accounting of the estate must be filed with the court before the executor can ask the probate court to close the estate.  Beneficiaries have every right to see the accounting, including all of an executor’s activities before the file is permanently closed.  Technically, this is the only time the executor is required to share the accounting with all of the beneficiaries.  However, things tend to proceed more smoothly when the beneficiaries are kept in the loop.  As an executor, it is probably in your best interest to reach out with periodic updates to the beneficiaries, as opposed to waiting for them to contact you.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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