If you become the executor of a will, you'll have more to do than read the will and distribute money to the heirs. As executor, you must pay for any funeral expenses, identify the decedent's debts and settle them, preserve the estate assets, and pay taxes for both the estate and the deceased. The money for all this ultimately comes out of the estate.
As an executor, you're entitled to claim a fee for your services even if you're also a beneficiary. In Florida, executor fees run around 3 percent of the value of the estate. New York fees run from 2 to 5 percent as the estate's value increases. The decedent can set a different fee in the will, or, in New York, require that you waive the fee if you accept the post. The probate court may also adjust your fees if the job is particularly challenging.
Part of your job as executor is to set up an account for estate funds you can tap to pay administrative costs. You also have the right to pay for an attorney, an accountant or an appraiser to help provide professional advice. If you have to pay some expenses yourself for any reason, you're entitled to reimbursement from the estate, which applies even to small out-of-pocket expenses, such as mileage or postage stamps. You will have to ask the probate court to approve reimbursement.
You're better off if you pay executor expenses directly out of the estate funds whenever possible. Mingling your funds with the estate's could lead to charges you're cheating the beneficiaries, and you might lose track of which money goes in which account. Keep records of all of your out-of-pocket expenses so that you can present them to the probate court for reimbursement. The records will also show the beneficiaries your claims are completely legitimate.
As executor, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries, not yourself. If you are also beneficiary, you have to treat all the other heirs fairly and equally according to the terms of the will. If a beneficiary believes you're cheating her or mismanaging the estate, she can sue to have you replaced or to pay back expenses. If the court sides with the beneficiary, you could wind up unable to claim any money for your expenses.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.