Estate planning involves creating wills and trusts that name executors or trustees. Both executors and trustees are fiduciaries—that is, persons in charge of someone else’s property or affairs. An executor oversees the carrying out of a decedent’s will, while a trustee manages a trust on behalf of the trust creator.
Read on as Jackie Bedard, founding attorney of Carolina Family Estate Planning in Cary, North Carolina, outlines the main functions of executors and trustees in North Carolina.
Executors in North Carolina
An executor, sometimes called a personal representative, is a person who takes care of a decedent’s financial affairs. If a deceased person’s will does not nominate an executor, the local court will appoint one. If you wish to assume the responsibility of executor, you'll need to learn how to get appointed as executor by the Court. To qualify to serve as an executor in North Carolina, executors or personal representatives must be older than 18 and of sound mind.
In a probate proceeding, the executor named in the decedent’s will receives an official court document granting them authority to settle the decedent’s estate. The executor may cooperate with the estate attorney in providing necessary information to the probate court.
In case of property that does not require probate, such as trust properties or life insurance proceeds, the executor will still take care of estate administration, which may include:
- Organizing the decedent’s property, such as a house, car, or furniture
- Making an estate inventory
- Sourcing valuation of the decedent’s assets
- Filing the decedent’s final tax returns and paying any remaining bills
- Distributing the estate to the decedent’s heirs
Read our article that goes into more detail: What Legal Duties Does an Executor or Personal Representative Have in North Carolina?
Trustees in North Carolina
A trustee manages any property that a trust holds. Once a trust creator, or grantor, dies or loses the ability to function as trustee, the successor trustee takes over trust management.
The trustee’s responsibilities may include the following:
- Identifying, appraising, and valuing trust assets
- Paying the trust’s bills
- Filing tax returns on behalf of the trust
- Sending relevant notifications to heirs and beneficiaries
- Distributing trust assets to beneficiaries
Executors vs. Trustees
In a nutshell, any assets held in the deceased person’s individual name are the responsibility of the will executor. A trustee is in charge of any assets that the trust creator transferred to a trust or that pass to the trust by beneficiary designation upon the trust creator’s death.
For example, let’s say that Mr. Smith has an investment account, which he transfers into a trust before his death. Once Mr. Smith dies, the successor trustee can continue managing the account after presenting a copy of Mr. Smith’s death certificate.
However, if Mr. Smith had not placed the account into the trust but had left the investment account in his individual name, the will executor would need to take care of it after his death.
Can One Person Function as Both an Executor and a Trustee?
The same person may be named as both the executor and the successor trustee. Many times, estate owners will choose to appoint one person they rely on as both an executor and a trustee so that one person can oversee and coordinate all final affairs after the estate owner’s death.
When one individual takes on both roles, it can streamline estate administration and ensure the fulfillment of the estate owner’s wishes. The joint executor and trustee can manage all assets, work with all beneficiaries, and wrap up the decedent’s financial affairs.
Executors and Trustees: Consent to Act
Both the executor and trustee need to be legally competent individuals willing to assume the role of handling the decedent’s estate or trust. In some cases, the named executor or trustee may die, become legally incompetent, or refuse to act as a fiduciary by the time of the estate owner’s death.
To ensure smooth legal proceedings, it is vital to name an alternate executor or trustee who can act as the executor or trustee if the estate owner’s first choice is no longer available. Furthermore, it is essential to talk to the potential executor or trustee to make sure they’re willing to take on their designated responsibilities.
Why You Need an Estate Attorney
If you’re looking for an estate planning lawyer or wills and estate lawyer, you’ve taken the first step towards building an estate plan and securing your financial legacy. An experienced North Carolina estate attorney can help you design a comprehensive estate plan that includes:
- Employing strategies to bypass the probate process
- Minimizing estate taxes
- Creating durable power of attorney or financial power of attorney as needed
- Protecting your estate
- Making sure that the right persons receive the right assets at the right time
Carolina Family Estate Planning has helped many North Carolina families prepare for any scenario with thorough estate plans. Our client-focused, down-to-earth approach sets us apart from other local estate attorneys. We also have an “Understanding Estate Administration” guide that can help you. This guide will give you an overview of the probate and estate administration process in plain English.
Carolina Family Estate Planning: Your Estate Planning Attorney in Cary, North Carolina
Founder and attorney Jackie Bedard and the experienced legal team at Carolina Family Estate Planning can help you create a comprehensive estate plan, from solid asset protection to long-term care planning. At Carolina Family Estate Planning, we help families build better lives by planning for a secure future via estate planning, asset protection, and long-term care planning. Call us today at 919-443-3035 to schedule a needs assessment call. We’re here to help.
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