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What is the executor of an estate?

Navigating probate and settling a loved one’s estate after their passing can be a complex and labor-intensive process. That’s where an estate’s executor comes in: They’re placed in charge of handling all these affairs and overseeing everything from start to finish.

The executor of an estate is a person, usually named in the will, who supervises and leads the process of settling someone’s estate after they pass away. Once the executor of the estate is recognized by the probate court, they’ll be issued a letter of testamentary, which is a legal document granting the executor access to accounts to pay bills and handle the financial affairs of your loved one.1

Duties and responsibilities: What does an executor do?

Usually, it’s the executor’s role to carry out someone’s wishes listed in their will. This includes most of the tasks needed to inventory assets and liabilities, disbursing funds and assets to beneficiaries, paying creditors, and closing accounts. The executor has the authority established by the court to act on behalf of your loved one. 
  • The executor starts by getting a copy of the will and filing it with the local probate court. 
  • They then begin the process of notifying relevant people and organizations of the death, including government agencies like the Social Security Administration, banks and credit card companies, and other financial institutions. 
  • The executor represents the estate in court, often appearing on behalf of the estate, filing an inventory of assets with the court, and handling other legal duties. 
  • The executor oversees all financial matters and maintenance of properties and assets through the process, as well as paying bills and filing taxes. 
  • Finally, the executor settles the estate by distributing all money and assets to the proper inheritors, as laid out in the will, as well as closing accounts and selling or disposing of any leftover assets.

How to get copies of the death certificate

The death certificate is key to the executor’s work to settle the estate and close out accounts for your loved one.

The process of securing a death certificate begins with a funeral director. Although family members may complete basic information, funeral directors usually fill out most of the form and coordinate with medical professionals to complete the cause of death section. The funeral director then files the form with the state’s office of vital records or statistics.2

The process to get a copy of the death certificate can take up to 2 or 4 weeks—the timing varies by state.3

You may be able to order certified copies through the funeral home or records office. Keep in mind, you may need as many as 6–12 copies to notify the appropriate authorities, close out accounts, transfer money, and settle the estate. You can also order certified copies from the county or state vital records office. If your loved one was a veteran, you may be able to get copies of the death certificate at no cost from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it may take longer than ordering through the state.

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More to explore

1. Lee Huffman, "What is a Letter of Testamentary?" NerdWallet, August 21, 2023, https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/investing/estate-planning/letter-of-testamentary. 2. Adebayo Adeyinka and Keneisha Bailey, “Death Certification,” National Library of Medicine, April 17, 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526015/. 3. Connor Emmert, “How to Get a Death Certificate and How Long It Takes,” NerdWallet, January 18, 2023, https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/investing/estate-planning/how-to-get-a-death-certificate.

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.

Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

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