There are two people primarily responsible for handling a last will and testament. The first is the person who writes the will, and the other is the executor, who is responsible for managing the estate that the person left behind following his or her death.
Technically, “executing” a will is the responsibility of the person who writes it and refers to signing it and making it legally binding. However, many people refer to the distribution of property and other administrative duties following the person’s death as “executing” the will, probably because they are performed by an executor. In an attempt to answer all the questions a person might have in regard to estate planning and administration, this article explains the responsibilities of both the person writing the will, i.e., the testator, and the executor.
The requirements for a valid will vary by state. Usually, the will must be typed out and printed, although some states allow handwritten wills. Almost invariably, the testator must sign and date the will in the presence of witnesses, who must then sign to attest that they saw the testator sign the will on the date in question. Some states also allow the testator to include a self-proving affidavit, which attests to the fact that the will was properly signed and witnessed. This can be helpful later if the witnesses are unavailable to give testimony. The will need not necessarily be notarized, but the self-proving affidavit must be. To prevent someone from inserting pages later, it may be necessary for the testator and witnesses to initial each page of the will, if there is more than one.
The executor’s duties only begin after the testator dies. He or she is not required to witness the will. The executor’s first task may be simply locating the will. Hopefully, the testator informed the executor of the will’s location while he or she was still alive. The executor will also need multiple copies of the death certificate, which he or she can obtain from the funeral home.
Upon locating the will, the executor should then file it with the probate court after first reviewing it to create an inventory of the bequests. The executor will then need to obtain and file forms with the court to start probate. Before the executor can distribute assets, property, and gifts according to the terms of the will, he or she must notify any creditors of the testator’s death and handle any outstanding debts. Before closing the estate, the executor’s final task is to file income taxes on the testator’s behalf.