The Executor & Their Responsibilities

The Chamberlain Law Firm

Choosing an executor is one of the most important decisions that a testator (person who drafts a will) has to make. The executor, known in New Jersey as a personal representative, must carry out the deceased’s stated wishes. Executors have other duties, including paying outstanding debts, taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

If you have been named as the executor of a will, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed. Most people in this situation are grieving, and the additional burden of legal procedures likely adds to the stress. At The Chamberlain Law Firm, our experienced New Jersey probate attorneys routinely help executors navigate the sometimes complicated probate process. To get you started, we’ve outlined the first steps that an executor should take in this article.

Obtaining Authority to Act as the Executor of a Will

Although the executor is typically named in the will, they must still be confirmed by a judge before they can perform their duties. This is done by presenting the will to the Surrogate’s Court and obtaining Letters Testamentary.

Sometimes someone passes away without a will. This is known as dying intestate. In these cases, a judge will resort to New Jersey law to appoint an administrator for the decedent’s estate.

Organizing the Funeral

One of the executor’s duties is to make funeral arrangements for the deceased. In many cases, burials and cremation ceremonies are prepared by the executor before receiving Letters Testamentary. Technically no one is allowed to act on behalf of the decedent until they are appointed by the court, but assuming there are no challenges, it is not unreasonable to carry out funeral arrangements as specified in the will before being confirmed by the court.  

Also, funeral costs can be paid from the estate, but the executor should make sure they are reasonable and necessary. If there are any concerns or doubts, you should consult with an experienced probate attorney.

Reading the Will

The first thing that an executor should do is read the entire will and any other estate planning documents so they know how the decedent wants their estate administered, remains disposed of, assets distributed, plus anything else they have documented. Reading, and understanding, the will gives the executor a clear understanding of their responsibilities and enables them to closely follow the decedent’s wishes. Wills can use a lot of legal jargon and be complicated, so consult with an experienced estate planning attorney if you are unclear about anything. 

Honoring Your Loved One’s Wishes

As executor, your primary responsibility is to carry out the decedent’s wishes rather than your own. You must step into the mind of the deceased person and make decisions based on what they want. 

This applies to all aspects of your duties as executor, including managing and inventorying the estate’s assets, paying debts and taxes, making distributions to beneficiaries, ordering appraisals, communicating with creditors, liquidating assets, filing tax returns, and closing the estate.

Liability of the Executor

As an Executor, you owe a fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries. A fiduciary duty is a legal obligation to act in the best interests of the estate. You must avoid any conflicts of interest and act with good faith, loyalty, and honesty when carrying out your.

This also means that as executor, you can be held liable for mistakes made while administering the estate. These may include making poor decisions that result in any loss to the estate, failing to observe debts, or failing to protect and insure assets, among other things. If you are appointed as a co-executor, you are jointly liable. This means that you can also be held liable for your co-representative’s errors.

Therefore, we recommend that newly appointed executors consider seeking the counsel of an experienced probate attorney to guide them, especially if it is a complicated estate. These legal costs can be paid from the estate, so long as they are reasonable and necessary.


The executor’s ultimate goal is to honor the decedent’s legacy and provide closure to loved ones during a difficult time. Serving as an executor is a significant responsibility that requires careful attention to detail. By following the steps outlined above and seeking the assistance of a trusted probate attorney, you can ensure that you carry out the decedent’s wishes correctly and avoid any legal complications.

At The Chamberlain Law Firm, we understand that performing an executor’s duties can be time-consuming and stressful. When combining this emotional toll with an important fiduciary duty, it’s no surprise that many executors choose to rely on the expertise of a probate attorney. If you would like to consult with an experienced New Jersey probate attorney, please call us at  (201) 273-9763. Our experienced attorneys can provide you with the guidance and support you need to effectively carry out your duties as executor. For more estate administration advice, be sure to check out our Insight Articles.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. In the event you would like to speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your case, contact The Chamberlain Law Firm to schedule a consultation.

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