Understanding the duties of an executor

Jul 23, 2020 | Estate Planning

Anyone in New Jersey who drafts and executes a will must name an executor to carry out the numerous the instructions in the will regarding the distribution of the decedent’s assets. A detailed understanding of the executor’s functions may be useful in choosing the person who will serve in this important role.

The surrogate court in each New Jersey county is responsible for overseeing the functions of the probate system. An executor’s first task, therefore, is to secure a formal appointment from the surrogate court as an executor. The executor nominee must provide the court with a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate and the will. A non-resident of New Jersey can serve as an executor if that person posts a bond in an amount specified by the court. If all submissions are in order, the court will issue an order formally appointing the nominee as the executor for the will.

Once appointed, the executor must first collect all assets belonging to the estate and prepare an inventory. The inventory must include both tangible personal property belonging to the decedent and intangible assets such as insurance policies, bank accounts and investment and retirement accounts. The next step is to contact all persons named as heirs in the will and notify them of the pending probate proceeding. The executor must then pay any outstanding debts of the decedent. These debts can include secured loans, credit card bills, and utility bills.

Perhaps the executor’s most important duty is the preparation and filing of the decedent’s final income tax return and payment of any taxes that are owing. In the unlikely event that the estate owes federal or state estate taxes, the executor must file the necessary returns and pay the taxes. One all debts have been settled and taxes paid, the executor must show proof of such payments to the court. After receiving such proof, the court will issue an order authorizing the executor to distribute the assets of the estate according to the terms of the will.

An experienced probate attorney can provide significant assistance to the executor in collecting assets, preparing a final accounting and presenting the required statements to the surrogate court.