If you are new to estate planning, you might not be familiar with the role of an executor. An executor is someone who will administer your estate after your death. A relative might even ask you to serve as an executor someday. Not all estate proceedings are the same, however, and it may affect how the law will refer to you if you take up the role of executor.
According to the state of New York, the law will apply a different title depending on the kind of estate proceeding involved.
The different titles of executor
Say you have a relative who dies and names you to oversee your relative’s estate. State law calls you an executor in this case. However, if you have a relative who dies without a will and a court appoints you to oversee the estate, the law refers to you as an administrator. And if an estate goes through a small estate proceeding, the person who takes on administrative duties for the estate is a voluntary administrator.
If you serve as an executor, you must handle an estate as the will instructs you. If you are an administrator or a voluntary administrator, you must administer the estate according to New York’s intestacy laws. Regardless of how New York law refers to you, you have the responsibility of protecting an estate until you have paid all outstanding obligations and are ready to distribute the estate assets to heirs as instructed.
Duties of an executor
Executors, administrators and voluntary administrators have the same fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate. This means whoever oversees an estate must not put his or her interests ahead of this duty. Common duties of an estate fiduciary include the following:
- Gathering and appraising the estate assets
- Protecting estate property from destruction or loss
- Paying outstanding bills owed by the estate
- Distribute property according to the will or law
A fiduciary who mishandles an estate and causes loss to beneficiaries could invite legal sanctions. So anyone who takes up the role of an executor or any role that requires the administration of an estate must have the capabilities and ethical temperament to handle the job.