Being asked by a loved one or friend to serve as an executor or trustee for their estate upon their death can be quite an honor, but it’s also a major responsibility—and the role is not for everyone. Serving as an executor or trustee entails a broad array of duties, and you are both ethically and legally required to properly execute those duties or face potential liability.
Your responsibilities can vary greatly depending on the size of the estate, the type of assets, how many beneficiaries there are, the document’s terms to name a few. You should think carefully before making your decision to serve.
Remember, you don’t have to take the job.
Yet, depending on who nominated you, declining to serve may not be an easy or practical option. On the other hand, you might enjoy the opportunity to serve.
This article offers a brief overview of what serving as an executor or trustee typically entails.
Although every estate is different, serving comes with a few core requirements. These duties primarily involve accounting for, managing, and distributing the estate’s assets to its named beneficiaries as a fiduciary.
As a fiduciary, you have the power to act on behalf of the will or trust’s creator and beneficiaries, always putting their interests above your own. Indeed, you have a legal obligation to act in a trustworthy and honest manner, while providing the highest standard of care in executing your duties.
This means that you are legally required to properly manage the estate or trust and its assets in the best interest of all the named beneficiaries. And if you fail to abide by your duties as a fiduciary, you can face legal liability.
Some of your key responsibilities as an executor or trustee include:
- Identifying and protecting the estate or trust assets
- Determining what the will or trust’s terms require in terms of management and distribution of the assets
- Seeking professionals, typically legal and financial, to help with administration
- Communicating regularly with beneficiaries
- Being scrupulously honest, highly organized, and keeping detailed records of all transactions
- Closing the estate or trust according to its terms
No Experience Necessary
It’s important to point out that being an executor or trustee does NOT require you to be an expert in law, finance, taxes, or any other field related to estate or trust administration. In fact, trustees are not only allowed to seek outside support from professionals in these areas, but they’re also highly encouraged to do so, and the estate will pay for you to hire these professionals.
Serving as in this capacity may seem like a daunting proposition, you won’t have to handle the job alone.
State law requires that executors have attorneys represent them in the probate process and since serving as a trustee involves such serious responsibility, you should utilize an attorney to help you navigate that process. Proper counsel is essential to ensure you legally and ethically fulfill all the will or trust creator’s wishes without exposing the beneficiaries—or yourself—to any unnecessary risks.
Finally, accept this job only after careful consideration. But know that the will or trust creator asks you to serve in this position only because you are highly trusted and respected.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Lasca A. Arnold, PLLC. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed decisions for yourself and the people you love.