When a person dies, someone must be appointed by a court to assume fiduciary responsibility for the assets, money and property of the decedent unless a valid will naming an executor exists. New York residents who have been named as an executor have a variety of duties to perform once the probate court has approved their appointment.
Wills play an important part in estate planning by allowing people to direct how assets they acquired and owned during their lifetime are to be distributed after they die. Depending upon the wishes of the testator, more than one person can be designated to serve as executors. A will can also appoint a person as the primary executor and a second person as the alternate who can assume the primary role in the event the executor elects not to serve or is unable to serve in that capacity.
Once appointed by a court in a probate proceeding, an executor has the authority to act on behalf of the estate. This includes assuming financial responsibility for the control and management of the assets being distributed through the will to the heirs of the deceased. As a general rule, executors do not have responsibility for assets that are included in trusts or the proceeds of life insurance policies that are paid to named beneficiaries.
The role of an executor is an important one that could involve complex issues. For example, an estate valued in excess of the applicable exemption, which in 2016 is $5.45 million, might be subject to federal estate tax. Someone taking on the role of executor might benefit from the advice of a probate and estate administration attorney for guidance.