If you have been asked to serve as the executor of another person’s last will and testament, you may feel honored and terrified at the same time. After all, a high level of responsibility comes along with being an executor. While the law does not require you to be a lawyer, a legal expert, or a financial expert in order to be named executor, it does require you to responsibly fulfill your duties with integrity. The legal term for this is “fiduciary duty.” This means that you will act in good faith regarding the individual’s last wishes. Executors are not entitled to any financial proceeds from the estate; rather, they may only receive a reasonable fee for administering the will. This fee depends largely on the complexity of the estate.
If you have been named the executor of a will in the State of Virginia, you will have specific duties to perform, including:
You may be required to inform all family members and those in the will of the deceased’s passing.
You may be charged with locating all the person’s assets, then keeping those assets safe until they can be properly distributed.
You may need to make the decision as to whether probate is necessary. This decision will be based on Virginia probate laws and are dependent on the value of the estate.
You will also need to determine the appropriate court in which to file the will.
You will need to locate all those who are named in the will.
If credit cards need to be cancelled, or bank accounts closed, you will be responsible for these tasks.
You must pay any outstanding bills owed by the deceased with funds from estate.
In some cases you may want to set up a bank account for the estate, so the money from the estate will be kept separate from your own funds.
If there are any payments, such as mortgage payments, insurance payments or others, you will make these from estate funds until the estate is settled.
You may be required to pay final income taxes for the deceased from the estate funds.
All property which is given through a will must be distributed, and this will be your responsibility. Property which is not specifically addressed in the will should pass according to Virginia state laws.
You may need to file complex, detailed annual accountings of the estate.
While these tasks may seem daunting, it is important to realize that the deceased chose you as the executor of his or her estate for a reason. They believed that you would be the ideal person to carry out their last wishes. While you may feel you will have no trouble following their last wishes, it is important to understand that the task of executor can become lengthy, involved, and even arduous. In addition, it may carry a certain amount of personal liability. This means that should you not follow the wishes of the deceased—as well as Virginia estate laws— you could end up being sued by the beneficiaries. You will then be required to prove that you acted in the best interests of those beneficiaries.
Some estates can take two years—or even longer—to settle. During that time you must keep up with all deadlines, filings and notices. Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help yourself as executor to relieve a considerable amount of stress you may feel is to speak to a Virginia estate-planning attorney about a revocable living trust which can allow the assets to be distributed without being held up in probate. Your Virginia estate-planning attorney can help you.