Executor, know your role?
The role of executor or administrator in a Mississippi probate proceeding is a fiduciaryrole involving certain executor duties. This means that you must act in the best interest of everyone who has a monetary interest in the estate (creditors and heirs at law or beneficiaries). You hold the decedent’s assets for their benefit, and looking out for your interests alone will get you into trouble.
Mississippi law requires you to carry out your executor duties in good faith and as a reasonably prudent person would in the circumstances. This standard is admittedly vague, but Mississippi statutes and case law provide plenty of guidance on how to handle specific situations. Keep in mind, though, that each specific application must be read in light of the general fiduciary standard. This will help you make good judgment calls if any gray areas arise.
Questions about your executor duties in any given situation should be directed to the Mississippi probate attorney handling the estate. But the following list should give you an idea of the type of responsibilities involved:
Hire the Probate Attorney. Although Mississippi court rules require the each estate be represented by a probate attorney, you are responsible for hiring a probate attorney that you are comfortable with. Questions will come up throughout the process, so you should select someone who is responsive and knowledgeable about Mississippi probate law.
Gather, Inventory and Value Probate Assets. Once the estate is opened with the chancery court, you should make a list of the assets of the decedent, along with their values, and the debts owed by the decedent. Although a formal inventory can be waived in some circumstances, you will need at least an informal inventory to keep up with the decedent’s assets. You should talk to the probate attorney about whether appraisal would be a good idea.
Open an Estate Account and Manage Cash Assets. If there are liquid funds involved (things like cash or marketable securities), you will need to open one or more accounts to hold the assets during probate. To open an account, financial institutions typically require the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration and an employer-identification number (EIN) for the estate, which the probate attorney or your tax advisor can provide. Some financial institutions also require a copy of the Order opening the estate. Liquid funds should usually be moved into the estate account(s).
Notify Creditors and Pay Debts. It is important that you follow the legal requirements for notifying creditors, even if you don’t think that the decedent had any creditors. This process is described in more detail in our discussion of the Mississippi probate process.
File Tax Returns and Pay All Outstanding Taxes. You could be held personally liable for unpaid taxes, so you will want to be sure that all tax returns have been filed and all taxes have been paid. See our section on Death and Taxes for more information.
Keep a Full Accounting. Keep up with the funds of the estate. If you receive money or spend money, be sure that you have supporting documentation. In most cases, prior court approval is required before spending funds of the estate.
Make Distributions to Beneficiaries/Heirs and Creditors. When it’s time to close the probate proceeding, you will be responsible for paying creditors and expenses of administration and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries or heirs at law.
This is somewhat of a simplistic overview, and there’s usually more involved. If you have questions about your specific situation, be sure to run them by the probate attorney for the estate.