A distant relative has named you executor, and you’re ambivalent about this position. On the one hand, you’re honored to be trusted with the responsibility. On the other hand, you know very little about being an executor, which overwhelms you a bit.
You may wonder what you are and are not allowed to do as executor. Here are a few things you can and can’t do as an executor:
What executors can do
An executor is allowed to:
Handle a testator’s debts: While beneficiaries typically don’t inherit debts, any funds a testator leaves behind can be used to pay off some debts. This may significantly diminish the share of the estate beneficiaries inherit. This is where you come in. The executor (or the executor’s attorney) can often negotiate with creditors to reduce the amount of debt a creditor collects.
Sell the decedent’s assets: Many estates in the Bay Area, in particular, include a house but not much more. The executor can sell a house and the cash proceeds can then be used to pay debts, costs of administration, and ultimately to be distributed to the beneficiaries. The rules for selling a house out of probate can be complicated, and must be done in accordance with the Probate Code.
What executors can’t do
An executor isn’t allowed to:
Add or remove beneficiaries: Even if you disagree with the testator’s beneficiaries, it’s not up to you to make that choice. One of the most important responsibilities of an executor is to respect what’s written in a will.
Be negligent with asset management: If you’re not careful with the money or properties the testator entrusted to you, you could cause losses to the estate. This could open you up to a lawsuit.
Being an executor comes with great responsibility. Having experienced counsel can make the difference between a smooth probate and a lawsuit.