I’ve been named executor of an estate. Now what?

If you’ve been appointed an executor of an estate, it’s important that you contact an attorney to assist you through the process. Although you can go through the process without an attorney, please be cautioned that failure to administer the estate properly could subject you to liability by either the IRS or other beneficiaries of the estate.

You have certain powers as an executor, as well as certain obligations. The Will may dictate certain things you should do specifically, and Tennessee law has provisions regarding your responsibilities that are paramount to protecting yourself as well as the estate of your loved one.

Powers are enumerated by statute1, and are lengthy. To name a few:

  1. You may file a joint tax return with the decedent’s spouse, if it will help the spouse more than it could financial impede the estate.
  2. You may act on the estate’s behalf in the exercise of the decedent’s business prospects, subject to provisions a court may deem appropriate.2
  3. You may fulfill any contractual obligations of the decedent, and to discharge any obligations of the estate arising under such contract.
  4. You may permit beneficiaries to use real property of the decedent while the estate is in the process of administration, so long as those persons do not act contrary to the rights of any creditor of the estate.

Responsibilities are enumerated by statute or by common law, and may be altered by the language in a Will. They can include:

  1. A duty to maintain an inventory of the estate which reflects the personal property of the decedent, cash assets, and the value of those assets.3
  2. A duty to render an accounting of the estate to the clerk when appointed an administrator by the court, and a duty to update the accounting annually while the estate is still pending.4
  3. A duty to safe-keep the property belonging to the estate, and keep it separate from the personal property of the executor;
  4. A duty to comply with inheritance and estate tax laws of this state and the IRS.

Administering an estate is akin to running a business. You are encouraged to be up for the task before agreeing to be named as an executor in someone’s Will, and immediately contact your attorney when you are called upon to act as a result of the person’s passing away. This process can be very rewarding, because by acting as executor, you are putting the other loved ones of the decedent to ease by managing that person’s assets and getting property distributed and debts cleared up while they take the time to grieve. If you yourself are having a difficult time with the passing of your loved one, feel free to communicate that to your attorney, who may be able to assist by doing a larger share of the administrative work so that you can take the time you need to be able to provide the best assistance you can. Remember, you are your loved one’s greatest asset! Our office is here to help you through the process, so you can focus on the healing which matters most.


1 Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-50-110 (2016)
2 Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-322 (2016)
3 Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-301 (2016)
4 Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-601 (2016)

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