If you’ve been named as an executor of someone’s will, or you were appointed by the court to be the personal representative of an estate, it’s important that you understand how to do that job. As the executor or personal representative, you have essential responsibilities and duties, including:
- Protecting the decedent’s property
- Completing the decedent’s financial affairs
- Ensuring that the decedent’s heirs get the property that was left to them
Specific Steps for Executors of Tennessee Estates
Before you begin your duties as executor, a probate case must be opened in the county where the decedent lived. If the decedent left a will naming you as executor, the court will issue Letters Testamentary that give you the legal right to handle the financial affairs of the estate. If the decedent died without a will, the probate court will issue Letters of Administration to give you the right to manage the estate. Once you’ve been made legally responsible for the estate, your duties will include:
- Promising to do your best on behalf of the estate. You will sign an oath promising to perform your executor duties responsibly.
- Creating an estate inventory. Within 60 days of your official appointment as executor or personal representative, you must file an inventory of the estate’s assets and debts with the probate court. The inventory should also be provided to the estate’s heirs.
- Notifying estate creditors. Within 30 days of your official appointment as executor or personal representative, the probate court clerk will provide public notice, typically in the local newspaper, of the estate’s opening. This notice allows creditors to come forward. However, you still have a duty to identify known and possible creditors of the estate. You can do this by obtaining a creditor report, reviewing bank accounts, and monitoring the decedent’s mail. Once you’ve identified the creditors, you must notify them of the decedent’s death and the open probate estate.
- Paying taxes. You will pay all outstanding local, state, and federal taxes.
- Notifying TennCare. If the person who died was 55 or older, you must notify TennCare. You have 60 days from the date of your appointment to file a request for release from the Bureau of TennCare. Then, you must submit the release with the decedent’s death certificate to TennCare. Once TennCare approves the release, you will file it with the probate court as part of the estate.
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries. After all the assets are identified and the debts are paid, you will distribute the remaining assets to the heirs either according to the terms of the will, if the decedent left a will, or according to the intestacy laws, if the decedent died without a will.
- Completing the probate case. Your last step is to file the necessary paperwork to close the estate with the court.
Tennessee law recognizes that being an executor is a lot of work. If there is no will or the will is silent as to compensation, you may receive reasonable compensation for your services. What is reasonable depends on the size of the estate, your time and effort, and other factors. Some counties have specific rules for compensation based on the size of the estate.
Get Legal Help If You’re an Executor or Administrator
As the executor or administrator, you have a critical and sometimes complicated job. You are also in a position of trust where you need to make decisions that are in the best interest of others rather than yourself.
If you make a mistake as an executor, you may be personally responsible for any harm that occurs. For example, you could be personally liable if you:
- Favor one beneficiary or heir over another
- Lose assets
- Fail to pay taxes
- Fail to meet legal deadlines for the administration of the estate