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Executors and Administrators

Liability Considerations For Executors And Administrators, Executors, Administrators, Terms Of Office, General Duties

Those who are designated by the terms of a will or appointed by a court of probate to manage the assets and liabilities of the estate of the deceased.

When a person dies leaving property, that property, called an estate, is usually settled or administered under the supervision of SPECIAL COURTS. Depending on the state, such courts are called probate, surrogate, or ORPHANS' COURTS. They are typically county courts with jurisdiction and powers defined by state laws.

States require court supervision for the settlement of estates for a number of reasons. Courts ensure that the assets of an estate will be properly collected, preserved, and assessed; that all relevant debts of the deceased and taxes will be paid; and that remaining assets will be distributed to the heirs according to the provisions of the will or applicable laws.

The duty of settling and distributing the estate of a decedent (one who has died) is assigned to personal representatives of the decedent. A PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE may be an executor (male or female) or executrix (female), or administrator (male or female) or administratrix (female). An executor or executrix is the person named in a will to administer the estate. An administrator or administratrix is a person appointed by the court to administer the estate of someone who died without a will.

Executors and administrators act as officers of the court because they derive their authority from court appointments. They are also considered the fiduciaries, or trusted representatives, of the deceased. As such, they have an absolute duty to properly administer the estate solely for its beneficiaries.

Probate is the process by which the court establishes that a will is valid. The first step in the probate process is to file the will in the appropriate court with a petition to admit it to probate and to grant letters testamentary to the person designated as executor of the will. Letters testamentary are the formal instruments of authority and appointment given to an executor by the probate court, empowering that person to act as an executor.

If an executor is unable or refuses to serve, if there is no will, or if the will is deemed to be inauthentic or invalid, the court appoints an administrator. LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION are the formal court papers that authorize a person to serve as an administrator of an estate that lacks a valid will.

No administrator is needed if a person dies without a will, possesses no assets, and owes no debts. Where a person dies leaving an estate, but there are no known living heirs, the state usually receives the property under the doctrine of ESCHEAT. In such cases, administration is not required, unless debts must be paid from the estate's assets before the state takes its interest.

The administration of a decedent's estate is controlled by statute. The probate court is authorized by statute to determine the fundamental facts essential to the administration of an estate.

As a general rule, the place of the decedent's last legal residence determines which probate court shall have jurisdiction over settlement of the estate.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Estate for years to Ex proprio motu (ex mero motu)