When you write a will, you name an executor (or a personal representative) to carry out the distribution and management of your estate after your death. You may choose almost anyone as executor, including your spouse, a relative, a friend, an attorney or professional fiduciary, though some states have residency requirements for executors that could limit your choices so you ought to consult your legal advisor about this issue. At the time you name the executor, it's also a good idea to name a contingent executor to take over in case your primary executor cannot serve at the time of your death.
What will your executor do? After your death, his or her typical duties depend upon your will and may include:
- Collecting, managing and conserving your estate's assets
- Notifying your creditors and paying all valid debts
- Collecting any debts, life insurance proceeds or retirement plan benefits due your estate
- Investing estate assets, if necessary
- Selling assets, if necessary, to pay estate taxes and expenses
- Keeping detailed records and submitting them to your beneficiaries and/or the probate court for approval
- Distributing your estate's assets to your beneficiaries
- Hiring an attorney or tax specialist to prepare and file all the required federal and state tax returns and other tax-related requirements in order to close the estate
Because of the responsibility that being an executor entails, you may want to consult the people you want to name as executor and contingent executors before you sign your will; those people may not want the responsibility or may be unable to serve for personal reasons.