What Can an Executor Do and Not Do

By PropertyClub Team
May 14th 2024
An executor of a will plays a crucial role in managing and distributing the assets of someone who has passed away. They are responsible for a variety of tasks, including paying off debts, handling taxes, and ensuring that the deceased's wishes are carried out as outlined in the will. One of their most significant duties is managing real estate, which often involves selling property to cover debts or distribute assets among beneficiaries. This article provides a comprehensive guide on what an executor can and cannot do, especially when it comes to selling a house, to help you understand the process and responsibilities involved.

An executor of an estate is a person appointed, either by the testator of a will or by a court to administer the estate of someone who has passed away. The executor of the estate has several duties. They are in charge of property, taxes, bills, and inheritances. While they are responsible for many different assets, real estate and property tend to be the most significant and valuable. The executor has been chosen to bear the responsibilities of finalizing the assets of the deceased, and for most people, their home is their biggest asset.

Although legally appointed as the person in charge of assets and property, there are strict rules and regulations to abide by to ensure the executor correctly completes their fiduciary duties. The first step an executor should take after notifying all relevant persons of the will is to file it with the local probate court. Only once the will is filed is its validity determined and authority officially granted to the executor. Following this process, one of the first things that need to be done is to pay off any outstanding debt left by the deceased. This is where real estate or property usually comes in, as often property will need to be sold to cover debt left behind or liquidate assets.

hash-markWhat An Executor Can and Cannot Do

An executor’s responsibility is to legally carry out the wishes of the deceased as instructed in their will. However, there are certain things that an executor can and cannot do. 

What An Executor Can Do

  1. Manage the testator’s assets and property up until the point they are distributed to the beneficiaries
  2. Validate the will in probate court
  3. Pay off the testator’s debts and taxes
  4. Supervise and ensure correct distribution of the testator property and assets
  5. Handle all inheritance as indicated in the will (including the inheritance of real estate)

What An Executor Cannot Do 

  1. Sign the will on behalf of the testator
  2. Execute the Will before the testator is deceased
  3. Stop the will from being contested
  4. Change the beneficiaries named in the will

hash-markHow Does An Executor Sell A House?

1. Validating the Will with the Probate Court

The first step an executor must take to sell a house is to file the will and have it validated with the probate court. This process, called probate, proves the will is real and gives the executor the legal power to act on behalf of the deceased. Without this step, the executor cannot sell any property. It's important to follow the probate process carefully to avoid legal trouble and to keep your role as executor secure.

2. Getting Legal Authority to Manage Assets

After the will is validated, the executor is officially in charge of the deceased's assets. If selling the property is necessary, the executor can then start the process. It's a good idea to hire a real estate agent who knows about probate real estate sales, as these can be more complicated than regular sales. There might be delays because of court approvals and special rules that only apply to probate sales.

3. Listing the Property for Sale

With the help of a real estate agent, the executor can list the property for sale. This includes advertising the property, showing it to potential buyers, and negotiating offers. Keep in mind that probate sales can take longer due to the need for court approval at different stages. Additionally, there are specific disclosures and documents that are required for probate sales.

4. Selling the Property Quickly

It’s important to sell the property as quickly as possible during probate. As long as the property remains unsold, it continues to cost money for mortgage payments, utilities, and maintenance fees. These expenses come out of the estate and can reduce the inheritance for the beneficiaries. Therefore, selling the property quickly helps to minimize these costs. Executors should focus on dealing with big assets like real estate early in the probate process to make settling the estate easier.

hash-markHow Long Does An Executor Have to Sell A House? 

There is no fixed time frame in which an executor must sell a house. It can take anywhere from two months to a year or even longer for an executor to sell a house, depending on how the probate process goes. If the will dictates that the house should be sold, the executor can sell the home quickly, but if beneficiaries contest the sale, it could take much longer.  

hash-markCan An Executor Of A Will Sell A Property Without All Beneficiaries Approving?

Yes, an executor can sell a house or other property of the estate without all beneficiaries approving the sale. As long as the will does not explicitly disallow the sale of a home, the executor has the legal right to sell the property. This can be confusing if the property is willed to a beneficiary, but the executor needs to sell that property to pay off debts left behind by the testator.

There can be some conflict here, as the beneficiary may be under the impression that the property is theirs to do with as they so wish. But as long as the deed doesn't have a clause preventing a sale, the executor can sell the property to cover other bills. 

hash-markCan A Beneficiary Stop The Sale Of A Property?

Yes, a beneficiary can stop an executor from selling a property, but only in limited circumstances, such as if the executor is benefiting from the sale. For example, if the executor is selling the property to himself or his family for less than market value, a beneficiary can ask the court to stop the sale. Additionally, beneficiaries can hold the executor liable for financial losses they suffer due to the executor's self-dealing or negligence. 

hash-markCan The Executor Sell A House That Is In Probate?

Yes, the executor can sell a house that is in probate. During the probate process, the executor is in charge of administering the estate and may need to sell the property to help cover debts and obligations. To sell a house during the probate process, the executor will need to follow specific procedures. For example, they cannot accept less than 90% of the house's appraised value. 

hash-markCan An Executor Sell Property Below Market Value?

An executor of an estate cannot sell a property for less than fair market value. To ensure the home sells for market value, most executors will hire a real estate agent to market and help sell the property. The probate court also requires the house to sell for at least 90% of its appraised value. 

hash-markCan An Executor Sell A Property To Himself?

Yes, an executor can sell a property to themselves, but they must pay fair market value for it. If they try to buy the house for less than it is worth, it could be considered theft or embezzlement. The executor is only managing the property temporarily; they do not own it. So, they cannot give the property to themselves for a low price.

Additionally, the executor should get signed consent from the beneficiaries or a court order that allows them to buy the property. Mishandling property or assets can lead to legal trouble, so it's important to handle these matters carefully. Executors should avoid any actions that might seem dishonest or illegal to stay out of trouble.

hash-markCan An Executor Of A Will Keep Family Out Of The Home?

Yes, an executor can only keep family members out of the home if they are not named as beneficiaries in the will. However, if a family member is named as a beneficiary, an executor should not keep them out. They can only do so if they have a legal reason, like if the family member wants to take property that isn't theirs.

The executor's job is to ensure the will is carried out and the estate is protected, so it is rare for them to try and keep a beneficiary out of the home. However, there are circumstances when it is necessary. 

hash-markExecutor Responsabilities to Beneficiaries Takeaways

Being an executor of a will is a significant responsibility that involves managing and distributing the deceased's assets according to their wishes. One of the most critical tasks is handling real estate, which often includes selling property to pay off debts or distribute the estate among beneficiaries.

Executors must follow the probate process carefully. They must ensure they act within the law and handle assets responsibly. Selling a property as an executor involves adhering to legal requirements, obtaining fair market value, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Consulting a legal professional is highly recommended to navigate these responsibilities effectively and avoid potential legal issues.