When you die, your property goes through the legal probate process before your heirs can inherit the property. As part of this process, a court appoints an estate executor to handle many of the particular details of the property transfer. Estate executor laws differ among states, so you should talk to a probate attorney in your area if you need legal advice about rules that apply to executors.
Executors and Representatives
An executor is a person or an organization that a court appoints to handle many of the details of the probate process. In some states, executors are known as estate representatives, administrators or personal representatives; but regardless of the title used, the executor has generally the same responsibilities in any probate case. Estate executors handle most of the probate processes involved in distributing estate property, while the probate court acts primarily in a supervisory role.
When a person dies, the property the person leaves behind is called the estate. If the decedent left a last will and testament, the will usually names someone the decedent wishes to act as executor. However, even if the will does nominate an executor, the probate court has to approve the nomination and grant the person the legal authority to start distributing property. If there is no will, the court will also appoint an executor after holding a hearing or otherwise determining an appropriate party to serve in that role.
When a person dies, anyone with a copy of the decedent's will or who knows of the death can go to the probate court and ask the court to appoint an executor to start the probate process. To do this, the court typically holds a hearing in which it determines who should serve as executor. Once the court makes its determination, it grants the executor "letters testamentary," or similar documents, that detail the executor's powers and authority to start the estate settlement process.
Powers and Duties
An executor's rights and responsibilities are dictated by state laws; but in general, any competent adult can serve as an executor. An executor has broad powers and can, for example, inventory all estate assets, use estate property to pay for unpaid estate debts, borrow money on the estate's credit and use estate funds to pay for repair and maintenance of estate property during the probate process. However, executors must follow all appropriate laws governing the probate process.