If you have become the executor of someone's Florida estate, you likely have many questions. The probate process can be intimidating and challenging, especially if it represents your first court experience.
The American Bar Association has put together a list of the questions that executors most often ask. Hopefully they will answer some of yours as well.
1. What duties do I have?
The larger and more complex the estate is, the more extensive your duties. However, you likely will have to do the following things at minimum:
- Apply to the probate court for Letters Testamentary
- Obtain several copies of the deceased person's death certificate
- Gather the estate assets together in a secure place and inventory them
- Notify all of the decedent's creditors that (s)he died and that you opened his or her probate estate
- Pay all outstanding bills and taxes the decedent owes
- Ultimately distribute the remaining estate assets to the decedent's heirs as (s)he specified in his or her Last Will and Testament
2. Must I manage the estate assets during probate?
Yes. As executor, one of your main duties is to oversee the estate's assets during the entire probate process. Your exact management duties, of course, will depend on the size and complexity of the estate. If you feel you are in over your head, you can hire an attorney or other expert(s) to help you.
3. Am I a fiduciary?
Yes. An executor is always a fiduciary. What this means is that in all that you do as executor, you must act in the best interests of the estate and its ultimate heirs. This does not mean that you must perform your various duties without any errors whatsoever. But you must never act in your own interests or in the interests of one or more heirs against the others.
4. When and how do I distribute assets to the heirs?
Usually, but not always, you give the decedent's heirs their inheritances as one of your last duties in the probate process. Always look to the decedent's Last Will and Testament for guidance on when and how you should make these distributions.
5. When and how do I close the estate
You must pay all of the decedent's outstanding bills and taxes, plus all of the estate's expenses, before you can ask the court for permission to close the estate. You likely also will need to file a final estate accounting with the court.
This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.