Estate planning is a crucial aspect of securing your legacy and ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of when you are no longer around. One vital component of any well thought out estate plan is the appointment of an executor. In Queensland, an executor plays a pivotal role in carrying out your wishes and ensuring the smooth distribution of your assets according to your will – so it’s crucial to understand what they actually do before deciding who to name as executors in your will.
What is an Executor?
An executor is an individual appointed by you in your will to administer your estate after your passing. This person becomes responsible for managing your assets, settling your debts, and distributing your property as outlined in your will. Choosing the right executor is critical, as they will be entrusted with the responsibility of handling your affairs with integrity and efficiency.
Responsibilities of an Executor
The role of an executor involves several essential responsibilities, including:
1. Organising the Funeral
One of the first tasks of an executor is to organise the funeral. While other family members may certainly assist with this process, it will fall on the executor to make all final decisions, and to organise payment for the funeral (which can be from estate assets, if available).
2. Probate Application
Probate is the legal validation of the deceased’s will, which grants the executor the legal authority to administer the estate. If a Grant of Probate is required (which often depends on the assets and circumstances of the estate), then this is usually the first legal step that an executor undertakes as part of the estate administration process.
3. Asset Management
Once probate is granted, the executor takes charge of your assets, ensuring their safekeeping and management throughout the estate administration process. This may include managing investments, property, bank accounts, and personal belongings. If a business or a rural property is involved this may also require supervising continued trading, buying or selling stock or managing crops. So it’s important to consider what tasks your executor may face when choosing who they will be.
3. Debt Settlement
The executor is responsible for identifying and settling any outstanding debts or liabilities you may have left behind. This process involves contacting creditors, paying off debts from the estate, and resolving any financial obligations. Importantly, it also extends to lodgement of both personal and estate tax returns for the deceased, together with organising the payment of any resulting tax liability.
4. Distribution of Assets
Once all assets have been collected and debts paid, the executor is next tasked with overseeing the distribution of the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in your will.
5. Legal Compliance
Executors must act in accordance with the law and act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries. As they must comply with any tax and legal requirements related to the estate, it is strongly advisable that executors obtain both legal and accounting advice prior to acting. This importance is magnified if an estate involves a business, external entities, complex assets, or a complex family situation.
6. Communication with Beneficiaries
Throughout the process, the executor should keep beneficiaries informed about the progress of the estate administration, addressing any concerns they may have and maintaining transparency. It is also advisable to make beneficiaries aware of the timeframes for distributions. As an example, it is rare for a beneficiary to receive their inheritance within the first 6 months after death – providing a realistic distribution timeframe to beneficiaries early in the administration phase assists in managing expectations and disagreements that may otherwise arise.
Consider Professional Help
It is essential to recognise that an executor’s role can be demanding and time-consuming. Whilst many executors handle the day-to-day matters personally (such as distribution of personal property and household items), to alleviate the burden and ensure effective estate administration it is often preferable for executors to engage to seek professional assistance from a solicitor to navigate the complexities of the estate administration process.
Appointing an executor is a significant decision that requires careful thought and consideration. Understanding the role of an executor is essential for Queensland residents to ensure their wishes are carried out and their loved ones are well taken care of. Taking the time to choose a trustworthy and capable executor will give peace of mind to both yourself and your intended beneficiaries.
If you have any questions about the role of an executor in managing an estate please contact a member of our Wills, Estates, Planning + Structuring team. In a future legal alert, we will cover some of the qualities you should look for when choosing the executor for your estate.