Executor of an estate gathering the necessary documents for probate.

What does the executor of an estate do?

If you’ve been named executor of an estate, you’re probably feeling a range of emotions — from honored to overwhelmed. You’re also likely wondering what exactly an executor of an estate does.

At the most basic level, an executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the deceased. In practice, the executor’s duties involve making sure that all the estate’s debts are paid and that the remaining assets are distributed in accordance with the deceased’s wishes — or if there is no will, in accordance with state law. Note: When there’s no will, the person carrying out these tasks is called an administrator rather than an executor.

See: Intestate Succession: How to probate when there’s no will

Some people believe that an executor must be an attorney or a family member, but in reality, an individual can name anyone they choose to be their executor.

The executor is required to handle the estate’s affairs with honesty and diligence. In legal terms, they have a fiduciary duty to the estate, which means they must care for the estate’s property with care and diligence as if it were their own.

While executors are not entitled to proceeds from the estate, some states allow executors to receive a small amount of compensation for their work administering the estate.

Now that we’ve set out some of the general parameters about what executors do, let’s dig into specifics:


An executor's duties include:

  1. Opening probate with the court: In most instances, an executor will need to file a petition for probate with their local probate court to be officially appointed as executor. In some cases, courts have simplified procedures for small estates.

  2. Locating the deceased’s assets: Not everyone keeps clear records about exactly what (and where) their assets are. The executor may need to do a bit of detective work to locate things like investment accounts and safe deposit boxes. They’ll also need to set up a bank account for the estate since all assets now officially belong to “The Estate of [The Deceased].”

  3. Providing notice to any heirs and interested parties: An executor is required to provide notice to interested parties. Interested parties are generally named heirs, immediate family members and creditors. Courts often have specific requirements about how notice must be provided.

  4. Managing the administration of the estate: While the probate process is ongoing, the executor may be responsible for things like continuing to make mortgage payments (out of the estate), closing credit cards, and notifying the Social Security Administration of the deceased’s death.

  5. Paying the deceased’s debts: While the executor is locating the deceased’s assets, they’re also working to locate all debts. All debts — including funeral expenses, taxes, and annual tax filings — must be paid prior to any funds being disbursed to heirs.

  6. Distributing remaining funds and/or property to the deceased’s heirs: After all debts have been identified and paid, the executor disburses the remaining funds in compliance with the deceased’s will.

  7. Closing the estate: After the executor has taken all necessary actions, the executor must notify the court of all actions taken. To comply with all of these requirements, executors need to keep thorough, accurate records throughout the process.  

We’ve listed what executors do and what their duties are as required by the courts and/or state law. But most executors find that their unnamed responsibilities are also quite significant — managing the varied emotions of a range of family members and contending with all the information they learn about the deceased through the process of uncovering their assets and debts.

Serving as executor is not necessarily hard, but it’s also not always easy. EZ-Probate has helped hundreds of executors understand the process and successfully probate estates with as little stress and heartache as possible. Learn how we can help.