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Executor & Trustee Guidelines

If you have been named executor of a will or trustee of a trust, these guidelines can help you understand what's expected of you in the process.

The executor (sometimes referred to as executrix for females) is responsible for managing the affairs of and settling the estate, including initiating court procedures and filing the deceased's final tax returns.

The trustee acts as the legal owner of trust assets, and is responsible for handling any of the assets held in trust, tax filings for the trust, and distributing the assets according to the terms of the trust.

Both roles involve duties that are legally required. If you don't feel you can carry them out effectively, you may be able to hire a professional to help carry out the duties or step down and allow someone else to assume the tasks.

Each state has different rules and each situation is unique, so you should always consult with an attorney or tax advisor.

If you have been named executor of a will, these guidelines may help you understand what’s expected of you. You can also use them to determine if you would rather not serve as executor.

If you determine you would rather not act as the executor, the will may name an alternative or an attorney can help you petition the courts to have another executor appointed if necessary.

Generally, the executor of an estate may be expected to perform certain types of duties, including:

  • Represent the estate for legal purposes: Hire an estate attorney, petition the court, and attend court proceedings.
  • Manage the affairs and expenses of the estate, including paying debts and expenses and collecting receivables, planning for cash and liquidity needs, having assets appraised or revalued if necessary, and, in some states, filing a probate inventory.
  • Contact government institutions as needed, to obtain information such as an Employer Identification Number for the estate from the IRS.
  • Issue notifications, such as public notice of probate in newspapers and statutory notice to beneficiaries to inform them of their interest in the estate.
  • Attend to tax-related tasks, such as filing tax returns and a closing letter with the state’s tax bureau.
  • Distribute assets to the beneficiaries.

If you've been named to serve as trustee, these guidelines provide an overview of some of the duties you would generally be expected to perform.

You can also use these guidelines to determine if you don’t have the skill, will, or time to administer the trust properly. Acting as a trustee is complex and time-consuming and you may be personally liable for the actions you take in the role. Additionally, it may be a good idea to consider family relationships and whether you will be able to make objective decisions and take actions in the best interest of the trust and beneficiaries.

There are options available to you as a trustee: You may be able to bring in a corporate trustee, like Fidelity,* to assist you in carrying out your duties. Ask a professional to help you understand your options and decide how to best proceed.

For information on how Fidelity may be able to help, see Personal Trust Services.*

If you determine that you would rather not be a trustee, review the successor trustee language in the trust document to determine if a successor is already named or what is required to appoint one.

Trustees have many responsibilities, which include at least:

  • Confirming key elements upon assuming the role of trustee: Ensure the assets are safe and under your control, that you understand the terms of the trust and who the beneficiaries are, and that all past account records are in order.
  • Investing the trust assets (if applicable) in such a way as to make sure the assets are preserved and productive for current and future beneficiaries.
  • Administering the trust according to its terms, including distributing trust assets to the beneficiaries, according to the trust agreement.
  • Making any decisions that arise according to the provisions of the trust; this may include discretion over when beneficiaries may or may not receive payments.
  • Preparing any records, statements, and tax returns as needed; also make any tax decisions relevant to the trust and keep all records on file.
  • Communicating regularly with beneficiaries, including issuing statements of accounts and tax reports.
  • Finding answers to any questions you and the beneficiaries may have concerning the trust.

For more details on the duties of a trustee, see Why naming the right trustee is critical, in Fidelity Viewpoints®.

Next step

Call our inheritance specialist with questions or to find out about transferring a Fidelity account at 800-544-0003.

Questions?

Speak with an inheritance specialist.

*Trust services are offered through Fidelity Personal Trust Company, FSB (FPT), a federal savings bank, and Fidelity Management Trust Company (FMTC).

The tax information and estate planning information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. Fidelity cannot guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws which may be applicable to a particular situation may have an impact on the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of such information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. Changes in such laws and regulations may have a material impact on pre- and/or after-tax investment results. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use. Fidelity disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

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probate inventory

listing of all assets and liabilities related to the deceased's estate

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statutory notice

notification that is legally required to be made, usually within a specified period of time

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closing letter

sent by the IRS to the executor to indicate that the estate’s tax return is satisfactory; depending on state law, the executor may have to file a closing letter with the state tax bureau

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successor trustee

individual named in the terms of a trust to assume the role of trustee should the originally appointed trustee be unable or unwilling to assume or continue in the role; for living trusts, the individual named in the trust to succeed as trustee upon the owner's death