As an executor, you possess a significant amount of responsibility and power. After all, the deceased entrusted you to carry out his or her final wishes and to handle the remaining details of distributing his or her estate.
That said, you may wonder to what extent you may exert your power. Do you have the final say in who gets what? Are there things you cannot do? SmartAsset clarifies what you can and cannot do as the executor of an estate.
Your responsibilities as an executor
As the executor of an estate, you have the probate court’s authority to manage the estate’s affairs. This includes the management of all the money in the estate. As an executor, you can use the estate’s money as you see fit so long as the way you use it contributes, in some way, to the deceased’s wishes. Ways you may use funds to contribute to the estate include paying down debt and paying bequests to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will.
If an estate has more debts than it does funds or assets, you may have to reorganize property and bequests so that you may pay down the debt on behalf of the deceased. Unfortunately, this may involve liquidating large assets and/or reducing heirs’ inheritances. It is up to you which assets to liquidate and whose inheritances to reduce.
Things you cannot do as an executor
As an estate executor, your biggest responsibility is to the estate. What this means is that you must act in the estate’s best interests, even if doing so goes against the deceased’s wishes. For every decision you make — especially if it contradicts what the deceased wanted — you must be able to justify how it serves the interests of the estate. State and federal laws have this requirement in place to prevent executors from making decisions that would serve mostly or only themselves. Such a requirement is particularly beneficial when the executor is also an heir.
If you make mistakes as an executor, you not only face criticism from the family. Unfortunately, you may also face legal charges. For this reason, it is crucial that you understand your rights and responsibilities in such an honorary role.