While being chosen as the executor of a loved one’s estate might be considered an honor, it can also be confusing, particularly for those who have not been the executor of an estate before. It is still important to have a basic idea about what the executor of an estate does.

Simply put, the executor of an estate is an individual named in the will who is tasked with ensuring the decedent’s wishes, as stated in the will, are carried out. First of all, an executor has to review the decedent’s estate planning documents. If there is a will, it must go through probate, and the funds in the will cannot be passed on to the decedent’s heirs until a probate judge has approved the distributions. That being said, if the decedent has a living trust and all of the decedent’s property was placed in the trust before death, the trust will not go through probate and the property in it can be passed on to the named beneficiaries without having to first secure court approval.

The executor may also have to use the funds in the estate plan to pay for expenses relating to the decedent’s funeral and burial. The funeral home in general will give the executor copies of the decedent’s death certificate. A death certificate may be needed to close bank accounts, file taxes and cancel federal benefits the deceased was receiving.

The executor of the estate is also tasked with finding, managing and eventually handing down the property of the estate. The decedent’s property will also need to be valued, and sometimes some of this property will have to be sold so that the decedent’s debts and taxes can be paid. In addition, until the decedent’s property can be handed down to heirs, it must be invested prudently by the executor. While this might seem simple at first, it can be a complex process and the executor could be personally liable if mistakes are made.

Source: Forbes, “Understanding the Role and Responsibilities of an executor,” Bernard A. Krooks, Feb. 14, 2013