An executor is responsible for seeing that the terms of the will are carried out. The basic duties of an executor are to collect the assets of the deceased, pay the debts and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries under the will. How this is done depends on the terms of the will and the nature of the estate. A person can be an executor and arrange for a lawyer to complete the legal documents and the search for assets or may do it without a lawyer. Being an executor may involve all or any of the following:
From the proceeds of the deceased's estate the executor must pay, in the following order:
- the funeral expenses
- the testamentary (legal) expenses
- any statutory obligations (such as taxation)
- any other debts.
This priority of payment is also followed when a person dies leaving more debts than assets.
Specific items left to beneficiaries are given to them, and in the case of items such as personal belongings, this may be done soon after the death of the deceased. However, if the deceased left gifts of money, the deceased's assets may have to be sold (realised) in order to obtain the money for distribution.
The selling of assets must be performed with diligence; in other words as soon as practicable. However it can often take up to one year to distribute an estate. If an executor does not act diligently, the beneficiaries may complain to the court. This is the only right of a beneficiary before distribution, as the beneficiary does not own the property until the executor distributes the estate.
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