How Do You Become the Executor of an Estate?
If the deceased person (decedent) had a will, the will almost certainly named an executor. The probate court for the county in which the decedent was domiciled will need to admit the will to probate and will most likely appoint the named person as executor of the estate.
Wait, isn't the court obligated to appoint the executor that the decedent chose? Yes and no. The Ohio Revised Code says that the court shall issue letters of appointment to an an executor named in a will if the person named is "suitable, competent, accepts the appointment, and gives bond if that is required." If a named executor is deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unsuitable, the court will name a different executor.
The person whose will is being probated may name co-executors, as permitted by law. Co-executors must be willing and able to work together for the benefit of the estate and heirs.
What's the Difference Between an Executor of an Estate, an Administrator, and a Personal Representative?
As a general rule, an executor is named in a will, and an administrator is someone appointed by the probate court if there is no will. The term "personal representative" of an estate encompasses both of these titles.
However, "personal representative," "executor," and "administrator" are often used more or less interchangeably, as they perform the same duties. These include identifying, locating, and securing the assets of the decedent; notifying heirs, creditors, and interested parties; filing reports with the probate court; filing tax returns for the estate; paying taxes and creditors; and distributing the decedent's remaining assets to heirs.
If There's No Will, Who Serves as Personal Representative?
If there is no will, the decedent is said to have died intestate. Under these circumstances, priority to serve as administrator is determined by Ohio law. The probate court will usually appoint the decedent's surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, the court will appoint the next of kin of the decedent, often an adult child who is an Ohio resident, as the named administrator must reside in Ohio. In the event there is no surviving spouse, adult child, or other next of kin who is deemed suitable to serve as administrator of the estate, the court will appoint another person it finds suitable.
Once the court has identified a suitable administrator, that person will be asked to sign an acceptance statement which outlines the administrator's duties and declares that an executor or administrator can be removed from the position for failure to carry out these duties. The administrator posts a bond (which comes from estate assets) to secure against any possible losses from mishandling or malfeasance. The court then grants letters of appointment, which give the administrator authority to act on behalf of the estate.
Fortunately, executors and administrators don't need to go it alone. They are entitled to retain a probate attorney to guide and assist with the administration of the estate. Because the attorney's services are a benefit to the estate, attorney fees are paid from estate funds.