What Does an Executor Do?


If a close loved one has died, it is possible that you may in charge of probating her estate. That role is known as an Executor. The executor of an estate has the responsibility for winding up a person’s affairs. Essentially, an executor is charged with protecting a deceased person’s property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and seeing that whatever is left transfers to the people who are entitled to it.

Tennessee law does not require that an executor (also known as a personal representative) to be a lawyer or financial expert. But Tennessee law requires the utmost of honesty, impartiality, and diligence. The executor has a “fiduciary duty” — the duty to act with unyielding good faith and honesty on behalf of someone else.

The Personal Representative has many of duties, which can depend on the complexity of the decedent’s financial and family circumstances. Generally, an executor must:

  • Find the decedent’s assets and manage them until they are distributed to heirs. This can involve searching through documents, mail, and other papers to make sure you have found all stocks, bank accounts, and other financial information.
  • Find out who inherits which property. If the deceased left a will, the executor will read it to determine who gets what. If there’s no will, Tennessee law known as “intestacy” (dying without a will) determines who gets what.
  • File the will (if any) in the local probate court. If there is a will it is likely necessary to open a probate estate in probate court; however, even without a will, it is usually necessary to open the probate estate in order to settle the assets and liabilities and distribute property.
  • Handle the day-to-day affairs. This includes notifying many parties of the person’s death, such as social security administration and creditors. Additionally, you will want to have the person’s mail forwarded to you, change the utilities in your name, and change his bank accounts to your name as the personal representative or executor.
  • Set up an estate bank account. This account will hold money that is owed to the deceased person — for example, paychecks or stock dividends, as well accept the proceeds from the sale of any estate property such as real estate.
  • Use estate funds to pay continuing expenses. The executor may need to pay, for example, utility bills, mortgage payments, and homeowner’s insurance premiums.
  • Pay debts. If there is a probate proceeding, the executor must officially notify creditors of it. Tennessee law requires that you publish a notice to creditors in a local paper to run for four months. At the end of those four months, you must settle any debts that were filed with the court during that time. Additionally, for any debts you knew or should have known of, you are required to mail notice of the probate estate.
  • Pay taxes. A final income tax return must be filed, covering the period from the beginning of the tax year to the date of death. Tennessee and federal estate tax returns are required only for large estates. But even for the smaller ones, you must file documents showing that the estate is too small.
  • Supervise the distribution of the deceased person’s property. The property will go to the people or organizations named in the will or those entitled to inherit. Additionally, those receiving property will need to sign Distributee Statements, which state that the heir actually received the property he was supposed to receive.

Being an Executor or Personal Representative is a large task to undertake. Mr. Nevin has represented hundreds of executors and estates over the decades he has practiced as a Probate Attorney in Nashville, TN. If you need to Probate a Will, or have questions about someone else serving as the personal representative, then give us a call.