If you are approached by an individual who claims to be the executor, personal representative or administrator of a deceased personís estate, verify the person is a legitimate representative of the estate before disclosing personal information about the deceased, providing financial records or granting access to the decedentís property. Anyone claiming to be acting on behalf of an estate should be able to produce written documents called Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration.
Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration are issued by the probate court with jurisdiction over the decedentís estate. If a person claiming to be executor, personal representative or administrator of an estate cannot produce an official document evidencing their appointment as the estateís legal representative, talk to an attorney about how to proceed.
Questions About Executorís Actions
The probate court judge and administrative staff of a probate court cannot answer legal questions about executors or provide legal advice. If you have a question about whether an executor has acted within the boundaries of applicable law, consult a probate lawyer or estate planning attorney licensed in the state where the estate is being administered.
What is an Executor Authorized to Do?
The executor of an estate, also sometimes called the personal representative or administrator, has broad powers. The executor can do almost anything the decedent could have done. However, the executor must perform his duties within the boundaries of applicable law, fulfill his fiduciary duty, and may be liable for failure to meet certain standards.While the laws applicable to executors vary from state to state, an executor usually has authority to take the following types of actions when serving as representative of a deceased personís estate:1. Make funeral arrangements and control the disposition of remains of the deceased if there are no surviving relatives or legal next of kin.2. Access the deceased personís medical records from a physician, hospital or other health care provider.3. Take possession of all assets owned by the decedent which are part of the probate estate, called probate assets.4. Secure the premises of any real estate owned by the decedent and any premises where the decedentís personal property is located.5. Sort through the deceased personís personal property.6. Collect any compensation, payments, property, judgments or awards owed to the deceased, including filing a lawsuit on behalf of the estate.7. Hire a probate lawyer to advise on probate and administration of the estate and to pay attorneysí fees out of assets of the estate.8. Transfer title to bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and related types of assets to an account titled in the executorís name as executor, personal representative or administrator of the estate.9. Make changes to how estate assets are invested, including selling certain assets and investing the proceeds in other types of assets.10. Manage any businesses or business interests owned by the deceased.11. Use estate assets to pay claims of creditors and other debts of the estate. See creditor claims.12. Order appraisals of probate property and valuations of business interests owned by the decedent.13. Sell estate property as authorized by the decedentís last will, the probate court or applicable law.14. Distribute the remaining estate assets to beneficiaries of the decedentís will or heirs to his estate.15. File any income tax returns for the deceased and any estate tax returns due for the estate.This is not an exhaustive list of an executorís powers. The authority of executors, personal representatives, and administrators varies according to state law and the provisions of a will, if the deceased had one. Consult a probate attorney to determine what actions an executor has authority to take in specific circumstances.For more information, see our For Executors page.
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