What does the executor of an estate do?

The executor of an estate has three categories of duties:

  • Opening the estate in probate court
  • Administering the estate
  • Closing the estate and filing the final report with the court

How is the probate court involved?

When someone dies, probate is the legal process to determine what happens to the property of that person. The first step is to determine the validity of their will. If there is not a valid will, the probate court determines who should receive the possessions.  

If you have been named the executor in a will, you must first open the estate in probate court. Only a probate court can give you the legal authority to access bank accounts and dispose of property and otherwise act on behalf of the deceased. The court usually will name you the executor, if you have been designed as such in the will.

Even before you are formally named by the court you have a lot of work to do. You prepare a stack of paperwork that includes the will and several legal forms, including the formal request to be appointed executor. You will be relieved to learn that Washington State has one of the shortest probate processes in the country. It is usually concluded within six months.

Three stages of probate

  1. We've discussed the first tasks of opening. After that, your first job after your appointment as the executor is to notify everyone with an interest in the estate. That includes heirs and beneficiaries, as well as all the financial companies that the deceased dealt with and any other entity holding assets or having a claim on the estate.
  2. Then comes the work of administration. Your tasks include paying debts, managing, and liquidating assets.
  3. You close the estate when you distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. The final task is filing a report with the court.

Can a lawyer help the executor?

The short answer is yes, as much or as little assistance as you need. Most people named executors have never handled probate before. And you take on a solemn obligation, one for which the courts hold you responsible. Thus, it pays to spend some time consulting a probate attorney during the process.

GSJones Law Group stands ready to support you. Bring all your questions to us.  We explain the process in detail, assist you with the initial forms, and answer your questions. With a simple estate that may be all the help you need. Yet, we stand ready to expertly take on any portion of the process you assign us. Norman Short offers a full range of financial legal services, including estate planning, wills, tax representation and consultation, as well as business law. Many of these legal areas are implicated in complex estates.