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What does an executor of a will do?

Posted by Zach Dana on April 6, 2016

executor of a will

executor of a will

An executor, or a personal representative as they are often referred to in Arizona, is the person who is appointed either by the creator of the will, or by a judge, to ensure that the directions in a person’s will are followed correctly and all financial obligations are taken care of. If you are named as the executor of a will, you will have many responsibilities that you are tasked with carrying out.

Duties of the Executor

Finding the will. Ideally, the deceased person will have told you where to find the will before he or she died, but if not, find out who their lawyer is and check there. If you don’t know who the lawyer is, you can publish a notice in the local legal newspaper asking anyone who has the will to contact you.

Filing the will with the local probate court. Most estates in Arizona only require an informal probate, but if there are disputes about the estate a formal probate may be required. You can find all the forms you will need to open a probate in Arizona on the Arizona Judicial Branch’s website.

Contacting the people who are named in the will. No more than 30 days after being appointed to the role of executor, you will need to notify the heirs listed in the will and any other interested parties of your appointment. In your correspondence with them, you will need to provide them with a copy of the Order to Personal Representative, which outlines your duties.

Once the will has been probated, you will be in charge of distributing the assets to the heirs listed in the will as they contact you to claim them.

Taking an inventory of the deceased person’s assets and managing them. This means locating the assets, taking inventory of the items, and submitting a list of the assets to the court. You must do this within 90 days of being appointed as the executor. You will also be in charge of maintaining these assets until they can be distributed or sold.

Publishing a notice to creditors. Assuming the will is being probated, you will need to publish a notice to creditors in the newspaper letting them know that this person has died and that they can claim the amount that they are owed from the estate. In addition to publishing the notice in the newspaper, you will need to send a notice to each known creditor. In Arizona, creditors have four months from the date they receive the notice to submit their claims. After that four-month period, you have a right to deny the creditor’s claim.

Paying expenses and taxes. The order in which you will need to pay expenses and creditors from the estate is as follows:

  1. Costs and expenses of administration of the will. So your fees (if you are accepting payment for serving) and your attorney fees.
  2. Funeral expenses.
  3. Medical and hospital bills related to the last illness of the person who died.
  4. Federal and State debts and taxes.
  5. All other debts and taxes.

If there isn’t enough money to pay off the creditors, you will need to send proof of this person’s death to interested parties. More on this in a bit.

Who can serve as the executor of a will?

You don’t need to be a legal or financial professional or even have any previous experience to serve as an executor. In Arizona you just have to be at least 18 years old and “of sound mind,” so not judged incapacitated by a court. A foreign corporation also cannot serve. People often choose a family member or close friend to step into this role. That’s because it’s important that the person who is chosen has the best interest of the deceased individual in mind. A person can also hire a bank or a lawyer to serve as an executor.

Being the executor of a will can be time consuming. Depending on the complexity of the estate and if there are disputes, you could be signing up for a lot of extra work on your plate. If you are asked to serve as an executor and you don’t think you will have time to devote to completing the job honestly and as efficiently as possible, then you should decline.

Will I be liable for the deceased person’s debts?

If there isn’t enough money left in the estate to pay off the debts the deceased person owes, you are not responsible for paying off any of these debts. You are responsible, however, for sending proof of the person’s death to the people who are trying to get their money back. This means sending certified copies of the death certificate with a letter stating his or her name and account number.

Should I be paid for serving as an executor?

Some executors choose not to take any pay for the work they do, but executors in Arizona are entitled by law to receive “reasonable” compensation from the estate. If you do decide that you want to be compensated for the time you devote to serving as an executor of a will, make sure to keep a log of you hours including the date and a description of the work you did. You will be paid directly out of the estate for your time.

Declining a Request to Serve as an Executor

Sometimes people who are asked to serve as the executor of a will aren’t willing to do the job. They might have too many of their own things going on to focus on another person’s affairs, they may live out of state and not be able to afford traveling back and forth while completing the executor tasks, or they might be worried that they won’t get along with a co-executor.

If you don’t think that you want to take on this responsibility, then you should tell the person before they die so they can name someone else to be their personal representative.

If after the person dies you decide that you can’t serve as their executor, there should be an alternate executor listed in the will, or if there is a co-executor, you can pass on full control to that person. If no back-up executor was named, then a judge will need to fill the vacant position and a court procedure will be required.


If you are serving as the executor of a will and you need guidance regarding disputes, tax liability or other issues, an attorney can help you through the process. At Dana Law Group, we have more than 70 years of combined experience in estate planning law and are here to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-381-8132 or submit an inquiry to us online.

You can also find more information about serving as the executor of a will on the Arizona Judicial Branch’s website. They have prepared an outline for personal representatives to use.


The article above is intended for education purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney regarding your situation.