An executor is responsible for managing the affairs of a deceased person’s estate. Also referred to as a personal representative, an executor is often appointed by a probate court and holds many responsibilities. From submission of the decedent’s last will and testament to identification of all assets, the roles and responsibilities of an executor are far reaching.
One of the most important roles as an executor of an estate is accounting tasks. An executor is responsible for preparing an accurate and complete inventory of assets and expenses.
In some cases, a beneficiary may want to see this information. But does an executor have to give an accounting to beneficiaries? The short answer is yes.
Accounting Information for an Estate
Executors must prepare concise accountings for an estate to ensure that the inheritances of all beneficiaries are handled in a fair and competent manner. Each state has their own accounting laws and associated legal forms; however, most consist of similar information.
When making decisions in regards to the accounting of an estate, an executor is obligated to disclose all actions. This includes listing all receipts for bill payments and the sale of any property. In addition, any monetary distributions to beneficiaries must specify specific dollar amounts. Beneficiaries are legally entitled to accurate and detailed account from executors.
Responsibilities of an Estate Executor
Agreeing to become an executor of an estate is not a decision to be taken lightly. Executors face many responsibilities although the time and effort involved in the job can vary depending on the size of the estate. Some of the most common duties performed by an executor include the following:
- Gather Documents – Finding and submitting the will to probate court is often the first task of an executor. If the will is not readily available, it may need to be found within the deceased’s belongings or an original copy can be obtained from the lawyer who drafted it. A copy of the death certificate is also required.
- Apply for Probate – Before starting work as an executor, there needs to be some communication with probate court. If there is a will, the court will generally grant the executor letters testamentary. However, if no will is found the court will grant letters of administration.
- Notify Beneficiaries – The next responsibility of an executor involves notifying all beneficiaries, heirs, and other interested parties. An advertisement must also be printed in a local newspaper to notify creditors of the death.
- Managing Property – An executor must create a list of all assets and liabilities in the estate. This may involve collecting the deceased’s property that may currently be in the possession of others. Executors must protect assets and property from loss.
- Paying Expenses – A variety of expenses may be taken out of the estate’s funds. This includes valid claims made by creditors, estate and income taxes, and any applicable administration and probate fees.
- Asset Distribution – Once all other debts have been settled, any leftover funds should be distributed to the beneficiaries based on what these individuals are entitled to under the will.
- Record Keeping – Throughout this entire process, an executor must keep accurate records of all activities. Concise records will be essential when the final accounting is created with the court.
Disagreements in Estate Handling
While a beneficiary is entitled to an accounting of an estate from an executor, the process is not always smooth. In some cases, an executor may refuse to show an accounting. If this occurs, probate law does outline certain routes a beneficiary can take to get the information requested.
If a beneficiary suspects that an executor is not handling the estate properly, he or she can file a petition with the probate court. In this petition, there should be a request for the executor to file a formal accounting. A formal accounting differs from an inventory of annual returns and therefore can be requested even if the executor is exempt from filing an inventory.
Speak with an Estate Planning Attorney
Beneficiaries of an estate have certain rights and one of those rights is the request for an accounting. Although executors are responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the beneficiaries, they cannot do anything they want with the estate’s assets.
Executors must follow estate and probate laws in the state in which the deceased passed and must also follow instructions left in the deceased’s will. An executor’s responsibilities are primarily fiduciary in nature, meaning that an accounting must be provided in a timely manner if requested by a beneficiary.
Probate and estate law can be complex and not everyone involved in an estate may know the proper steps to take to get the information that they are legally entitled to. A probate law attorney can provide guidance on local estate laws and recommend the best course of action based on your unique situation. Reach out to an estate attorney today at JacksonWhite Law.
Call our Arizona Estate Planning team at (480)467-4325 to discuss your case today.