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Executor Of A Will: Responsibilities & Duties

Wills & Probate

I have been appointed as an executor. What should I do and what are my duties? In this article by senior estates lawyer Miranda Thompson, we learn what is required of those given responsibility to manage and distribute a loved one’s estate.

Often when people are appointed as an executor they are unsure what is expected. Every estate is different and often the work is complex and time consuming and a knowledge of law, accounting and taxation is required. It is important to take professional advice because if you make mistakes an executor can be held liable for those mistakes. An executor’s duties and responsibilities include:

  1. To locate and verify the last Will of the deceased.
  2. Make funeral arrangements, if required.
  • You should check if there is a specific direction or wish of the deceased about the funeral, burial or cremation, either set out in the Will or another document.
  • If there are specific directions, is the cost involved reasonable having regard to the size of the estate?
  • Has the funeral been prepaid by the deceased or are the assets of the estate sufficient to meet the cost?
  • Any person other than the executor who makes arrangements for the funeral will be personally liable for the cost and may be reimbursed by the executor out of the estate if the cost is reasonable.
  • Note also that the funeral expenses may be paid from the deceased’s bank account by sending the invoice to the bank and it will arrange payment direct to the funeral director.
  • Arrange a preliminary conference with family members and business associates, advise beneficiaries and ensure the immediate needs of the deceased’s family are met.
  1. Protect estate assets such as business interests, collect income, insure all property and keep surplus funds invested.
  2. Collect information about the estate, including:
  • assets,
  • liabilities including tax,
  • superannuation, insurance or other entitlements of the deceased,
  • check specific gifts left under the Will are still owned by the deceased,
  • determine date and cost of acquisition of property for capital gains tax purposes.
  1. Apply to Supreme Court for a Grant of Probate and once obtained realise assets to pay liabilities especially income tax to date of death and for the estate.
  2. Distribute estate assets in accordance with the Will, including payment of legacies and hand over of specific bequests, transfer of funds or assets to beneficiaries, obtain receipts and prepare final statement for beneficiaries.

Most people who are appointed an executor choose to engage a lawyer to help them with this important task. We act on dozens of estates every year. The estate itself rather than the executor pays any legal fees, and there are strict rules about how much lawyers can charge based on the monetary size of the estate, so you need not be anxious about getting help from a lawyer. If you are unsure, give us a call, and a member of our estates team can help you work through the issues.