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?”.
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.”
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:
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:
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.