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By: Scott Grossman on January 22nd, 2024

What an executor cannot do

Executor’s Rights and Obligations

When someone passes away and leaves behind assets and property, it becomes necessary to handle their estate and distribute it accordingly. This responsibility is often entrusted to an executor, who the deceased individual appoints in their will. As an executor, you have specific rights and obligations that must be carried out per the law.

The Role of an Executor

Before delving into the rights of an executor, let’s first understand their role in the estate administration process. An executor manages and distributes the deceased individual’s assets, also known as the decedent. They act as the decedent’s representatives and handle their financial affairs.

What is the difference between an executor and a trustee?

An executor and a trustee have distinct roles and responsibilities:


  • Manages a deceased person’s estate and distributes assets according to the will.
  • The role is finite and typically ends once the estate’s assets are distributed under the probate court’s supervision. 


  • They administer a trust for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.  
  • The role may last for many years, even for life, and involves managing the trust and distributing assets according to the trust’s terms. 

Executors and trustees are fiduciaries. That means they have a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries of the wills or trusts. While they share some similarities, such as managing assets that belong to others and being subject to fiduciary duties, their specific duties and the nature of the assets they manage distinguish their roles.

Executor Rights Explained

Being an executor grants you certain rights to effectively fulfill your obligations. Understanding these rights is crucial to carrying out your duties responsibly and lawfully:

  • Right to Manage Estate Assets

One of the primary rights of an executor is the authority to manage the decedent’s estate assets. That includes tangible assets such as real estate, vehicles, and personal belongings and intangible assets like bank accounts, investments, and intellectual property rights.

  • Right to Collect and Secure Assets

As an executor, you have the right to collect and secure all assets belonging to the estate. That involves identifying and locating all relevant assets, safeguarding them against loss or damage, and ensuring proper maintenance throughout the administration process.

  •  Right to Pay Debts and Expenses

Before distributing the estate to the beneficiaries, an executor must settle any outstanding debts and expenses the decedent owes. That can include funeral costs, outstanding taxes, medical bills, and any outstanding loans or mortgages. Executors have the right to use estate funds to satisfy these obligations, ensuring that the estate is cleared of any financial burdens before distribution.

  • Right to File Legal Documents

Another important right of an executor is the ability to file necessary legal documents with the appropriate authorities. That includes filing the decedent’s will with the probate court, obtaining the required letters of testamentary or letters of administration, and providing notifications to government agencies, financial institutions, and other relevant parties.

  • Right to Distribute Assets

Once all debts, expenses, and legal obligations have been addressed, an executor can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. That involves identifying the rightful beneficiaries as stipulated in the decedent’s will, ensuring a fair and equitable distribution, and executing any necessary legal transfers of ownership.

Legal Rights of an Executor

Aside from the specific rights mentioned above, there are legal rights that protect and empower an executor throughout the estate administration process:

  • Right to Compensation

In many jurisdictions, executors have the right to receive reasonable compensation for their services. This compensation is typically calculated as a percentage of the estate’s value. Or based on an hourly rate set by law. It is important to note that the exact rules regarding executor compensation may vary depending on the jurisdiction. 

  • Right to Seek Professional Assistance

Executors can seek professional assistance in estate management, especially if they feel overwhelmed or need more expertise. That can include engaging the services of accountants, lawyers, appraisers, and other professionals who can provide guidance and support throughout the administration process.

  •  Right to Protection from Liability

An executor does not have to be infallible, and mistakes can occur during the estate administration. However, as long as the executor acts in good faith and by the law, they are generally protected from personal liability for any losses or claims against the estate.

Being an executor comes with certain rights and obligations that must be understood and fulfilled. From managing the decedent’s assets to distributing them to the rightful beneficiaries, the role of an executor is critical in ensuring a smooth and lawful estate administration process. By familiarizing yourself with your rights as an executor, you can carry out your duties efficiently and confidently.

Next Steps in the Probate Process

It is vital to hire a probate attorney in California. Their expertise, guidance, and knowledge of California probate laws are invaluable throughout the probate process. Whether you are an executor, beneficiary, or concerned family member, TGLF can assist you in fulfilling the legal requirements, maximizing the estate’s value, and minimizing potential conflicts or delays.

By seeking the assistance of a probate attorney, you can navigate the complexities of the probate process with confidence and peace of mind. If you need more guidance in the probate process, check out our Overview of the California Probate process.

If your case is in California and you’d like an honest opinion, fill out our Get Help Now form. Or contact our office today to schedule your free 30-minute phone consultation by calling us at (888) 443-6590.