Executors: Explained

Legal jargon is something we all love to hate, but at the end of the day, it’s really not as complicated as it all sounds. 

In fact, the reason a lot of legal terms sound so unfamiliar is simply because we just don’t use them in our day-to-day lives.

One such example is 'Executor' (pron. ‘exec-queue-tore’). In the context of Australian Succession Law, it is a title given to the person in charge of a deceased person’s Estate. 

When making your Will, the first thing you’re asked to do is select your Executor. This will be the person who ensures that your wishes are carried out under your Will.

Generally an Executor is a trusted person, often a close family member, partner, or friend, to whom you feel would best manage the distribution of your Estate. There are some key responsibilities attached to being an Executor, some of which include:

  • Applying for Probate.

  • Preserving and gathering assets of the deceased person’s Estate;

  • Paying debts and liabilities;

  • Being open and transparent with beneficiaries;

  • Defending the Estate if legal proceedings arise;

  • Managing the deceased person's tax affairs;

  • Distributing the Estate to beneficiaries under the Will. 

While choosing the right person may seem like a difficult decision, the good news is that you can distribute the responsibilities as you see fit. Essentially, there are two levels of Executors that need to be nominated:

1. Primary Executor/s (Plan A) 

2. Alternate Executor/s (Plan B).

And on each level, you can nominate more than one person to share the legal load. For example:

Alice wants to nominate her partner, Alex, and her sister, Grace, to be her Primary Executors - with joint responsibilities and decision-making powers. 

Alice wants to nominate her friend, James, to be her Alternate Executor.

Your Alternate Executor is practically the ‘understudy’, and they’ll step up to the plate if your Primary Executor isn’t able to fulfil their role under your Will (e.g. they predecease you, are unwilling or unable to for any reason).

It’s definitely worth taking some time to consider who you feel would be the right person/s to carry out your wishes in accordance with your Will. While it’s not mandatory, when the time comes, most Executors will consult a solicitor to help navigate the Estate Distribution process and make sure they get it right; also, Estate legal fees are often deferred and paid out of the Estate once it has been finalised).

So while it may seem like a daunting task to give to someone, there’s always help available to them in the future.