Duties of the Administrator or Executor

What Are the General Duties of the Executor/Administrator?

The administrator/executor (herein referred to as “personal representative”) has the responsibility of managing the decedent’s estate by receiving all assets of the estate, determining and paying all lawful debts of the estate, making distribution to the proper beneficiaries under the will, or in the case of intestacy, to the intestate heirs at law pursuant to the laws of intestate succession in effect in Virginia, and to report timely to the Commissioner of Accounts on the actions taken by the personal representative in handling the estate.

There is a high degree of care, diligence, personal and fiduciary obligation involved in the administration of an estate.  The personal representative is obligated to act as a prudent person in the care and management of the estate and to act in a manner consistent with the will and not in conflict with any applicable estate administration laws or the laws of intestacy.

The personal representative is barred from self dealing.  Quite simply, the personal representative may not gain any personal benefit from serving as executor or administrator except as provided by the will or by relevant Virginia law with respect to a reasonable commission for serving as personal representative.

Specific Duties of the Personal Representative

The personal representative should take charge of and gain possession of all assets of the estate where necessary in order to carry out the obligations for the payment of taxes, debts and claims against the estate and the ultimate distribution of the estate in a manner consistent with the testator’s wishes as stated in the will or as required by the laws of intestate succession.

Apply online at www.irs.gov for a federal tax number (FEIN) for the estate. This is free, and you should not pay a fee to some online service to obtain the FEIN number.

Open an estate bank account to handle all deposits or disbursements. Be sure to request that copies of the front of all checks written on the account (imaged copies) be included with the monthly bank statements, or that you will be able to retrieve copies of the front and back of checks if you intend to use online banking. If the assets on deposit exceed $10,000.00, the account must be an interest bearing account (unless the bank charges a monthly fee in excess of the interest that will be earned on the deposits), otherwise you may be charged interest lost to the estate.

You may have to search for the assets of the decedent. Review of the decedent's papers will generally disclose the decedent's banks, brokers, financial planners, CPA, attorney, life insurance companies and other entities who may hold assets of the decedent.

Change the forwarding address of the decedent's mail at the post office so that you will receive all correspondence intended for the decedent. Read the mail and contact those who may hold assets and those to whom the decedent may have been indebted.

Contact the Virginia Division of Unclaimed Property to see if the decedent is entitled to some asset of which he was unaware. It is not uncommon for stocks, bonds, insurance proceeds, dividends or uncashed checks to have been paid to this department and the decedent have been totally unaware of the existence of such asset. Visit www.VaMoneySearch.org to do an online check. (Va Unclaimed Property Form)

Be sure to check for evidence of a safe deposit box at the decedent's bank or visit banks near the decedent's home to inquire of the existence of a box.

Tangible personal property specifically listed in the will should be distributed to the named beneficiaries provided there are sufficient assets to pay all debts of the estate.  If assets are insufficient to pay all debts, personal property may have to be sold to satisfy debts.  If the estate is potentially insolvent (insufficient assets to pay all debts) no distributions to beneficiaries of personal property or cash, and no payments to creditors of the estate (including funeral expenses) should be made until the final determination has been made that all creditors can be paid. (See Section 64.2-528, Code of Virginia (1950), as amended.)

The decedent’s safe deposit box should be opened and inventoried.  Insurance may have to be in place to protect any tangible personal property not delivered to a named beneficiary which remains under the actual or constructive control of the personal representative, and any real estate which is part of the probate assets under your control.

Intangible personal property includes certificates of deposit or statements of account such as stocks and bonds, deposits in checking and savings accounts, life insurance proceeds, or other such investment assets.  Once the determination is made that these assets were owned solely by the decedent, or by the decedent and a co-owner with no right of survivorship or no pay on death designation, those assets should be recovered by the fiduciary and deposited to an estate account.  Stocks and bonds should be re-registered in the name of the estate.

Remember that accounts held jointly or designated with the right of survivorship or payable on death are not part of the probate estate and will not be subject to your control and administration.  They are payable by the bank or other institution to the survivor named on the account. Get a copy of the account card or a letter from the life insurance company for your records to verify that the account was a survivorship account.Obtain a copy of the deed for any real estate to determine whether title was held "with the right of survivorship" or simply as "tenants in common" or "joint tenants" without survivorship. If survivorship is not stated on the deed it is part of the estate. Power of Attorney accounts are not survivorship accounts unless the decedent personally established the account with a named beneficiary.

Notice of Probate and Qualification, and Affidavit of Notice

You are required by law to notify all heirs at law (the decedent’s heirs if he or she had died without a will), and all named beneficiaries under the will (if the decedent died testate), that the will has been probated and of your qualification as personal representative.  This notice of probate and qualification is required to be given within thirty (30) days of the date of your qualification.  It should be hand delivered or mailed to the correct address. (Form CC-1616).

After giving notice to beneficiaries and heirs at law, you are required, within four (4) months from the date of qualification, to complete the Affidavit of Notice (Form CC-1617) given to you at the time of qualification, and file the affidavit with the Henrico County Circuit Court.  You will pay from the estate $16.00 to the Clerk of Court as a filing fee (keep the receipt).  At the time of mailing or delivery to the Clerk, you should deliver or mail a copy to the Commissioner of Accounts.  Failure to give this notice and file the Affidavit of Notice will result in the issuance of a summons by the Commissioner of Accounts requiring the filing of the affidavit or a show cause order requiring your  appearance at the Commissioner’s office or appearance before the Judge of the Circuit Court to explain why this Affidavit of Notice has not been timely filed. 

Tax Identification Number and Estate Bank Account(s)

In most cases it is necessary to obtain a federal employer identification number (FEIN) for the estate.  You will use this in opening the estate checking account, reporting income tax owed by the estate or investing assets during the course of administration of the estate.

  You may obtain the federal employer identification number online at www.irs.gov. You should obtain the FEIN without charge, at the IRS government website. If, in regestering online, you are asked to pay for obtaining the number, exit the website, as you have been directed to a commercial site which charges you for obtaining the number which is issued free of charge! 

If you have an accountant, enrolled agent or an attorney assisting you with the administration of the estate, determine whether or not you or the professional assisting you has undertaken to obtain that IRS number.  This number should be used on all investments and accounts once you qualify.  The decedent’s social security number is no longer a proper number to be used for accounts.

Bank Accounts for the Estate

The account established for the estate must be an interest bearing account and should be titled in the estate’s name (i.e., the Estate of Jane Doe by John Doe, executor or John Doe, administrator). 

******Set up the account so that copies of all checks written during administration will be returned to you with the monthly bank statements, otherwise you will have to request copies of the front and back of all checks from the bank, or obtain them online to file with your account.

Do not open a non-interest bearing account unless the deposits in the account will be less than $10,000.00, or the minimum required by the bank to avoid monthly service fees. If you do not open interest bearing accounts within four (4) months of receipt of the funds, you will be personally surcharged the interest lost to the estate. Section 64.2-1501, Code of Virginia (1950), as amended.

Decedent's Mail

You should immediately upon qualification file at the post office a forwarding order requiring all future mail of the decedent to be forwarded to your address.  This will save you the necessity of going to the decedent’s home to retrieve mail and will ensure that you are aware of all assets and debts, obligations and claims against the estate.

Payment of Creditors Claims

All lawful debts and obligations of the estate must be paid or provided for prior to distribution to any beneficiary.  However, there are statutory provisions which may control the payment of debts, so be careful in paying liens against personal property specifically bequeathed, or liens against real estate specifically devised, to a beneficiary. ( Section 64.2-531, Code of Virginia) Consult with your estate attorney before paying these liens.

As previously mentioned, if there is a possibility the estate is insolvent (more debts than asset value), you should defer all disbursements and distributions until the determination has been made that all claims have been identified and all claims against the estate can be paid from existing assets, and if not, the proper priority for the payment of expenses, claims and debts. If the estate is insolvent, immediately consult with an experienced estate administration attorney.

Only lawful debts of the estate should be paid.  If the statute of limitations has expired on a claim against the decedent’s estate, the payment of that obligation by the fiduciary is wrongful and subjects the fiduciary to personal liability for that payment.  If you have a question as to whether or not a claim or debt against the estate is lawful, you should consult with an estate attorney.  If you are uncertain as to whether or not a claim is valid or contest the validity of any claim, you should request a debts and demands hearing by letter to the Commissioner of Accounts.

The debts and demands  process will determine the validity of all disputed claims and will protect the fiduciary from personal liability, if the process is used in conjunction with a Petition for a Show Cause Against Distribution which results in an Order of Distribution by the Circuit Court ordering the distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries.  The Petition for Show Cause Against Distribution may be obtained only if an accounting has been filed with the Commissioner and has been approved, and the debts and demands proceeding has been conducted. You will need the services of an estate attorney to complete this full procedure.

You are not required to use the debts and demands procedure, however, if you wish statutory protection from personal liability for claims filed after you distribute the estate, you must use the debts and demands hearing and show cause against distribution procedure. (See Section 64.2-550, Code of Virginia (1950), as amended.)


Be careful paying liens on specifically bequeathed personal property or specifically devised real property. In the absence of specific language in the will directing the payment of these liens from estate assets, the liens become the liability of the beneficiary. For example, if the will states: "I give and bequeath my Mustang to my nephew, Johnny...", and the car has a $5,000.00 lien against it at the decedent's death, with no further specific direction to pay the lien in the will, Johnny would be obligated to pay the $5,000.00 lien and not the estate. (Section 64.2-531, Code of Virginia ). Additional problems can result from this situation. Therefore, if assets specifically bequeathed or devised have unpaid liens at the decedent's death, consult with an experienced estate administration attorney before paying the lien or delivering the property to the beneficiary.



        If the estate is insolvent, there are statutory provisions which control the order in which       debts and claims against the estate must be paid. 

If there is a possibility the estate is insolvent (more debts than asset value), you should defer all disbursements and distributions until the determination has been made that all claims have been identified and all claims against the estate can be paid from existing assets, and if not, that the proper priority for the payment of expenses, claims and debts is followed. If the estate is insolvent, immediately consult Section 64.2-528, Code of Virginia or preferably consult with an experienced estate administration attorney.

Real Estate

Only real estate which does not pass by survivorship is included in the probate estate of the decedent.  If the decedent owned property alone, it is part of the decedent’s estate.  If the decedent owned real estate jointly with one or more other owners, and the deed has no provision for survivorship at the death of the decedent, then the decedent’s interest passes as part of his estate.  For example, the decedent may have owned a vacation property equally with three other people.  If that ownership has no survivorship provision in the deed, then the decedent’s estate has a one-fourth interest to be administered.  Quite often real estate passes by survivorship at death.  It will therefore generally be necessary for you to look at the deed originally conveying the property to the decedent to determine how title was held, and keep a copy of the deed for your records.

Transfer on Death Real Property (TOD DEED)

Effective on or after July 1, 2013, a person, during their lifetime, may record a transfer on death (TOD) deed which transfers real estate to a named beneficiary immediately upon death. This type of property is not listed on the inventory since it passes by survivorship (TOD) designation. 

CAVEAT: TOD real estate is subject to the claims of the decedent's estate by statute, if the decedent's estate is otherwise unable to satisfy all claims and debts. Therefore, you may be required to provide to the Commissioner, a copy of the recorded TOD deed; and the property may be claimed by the estate's personal representative as part of the probate assets to the extent necessary to satisfy claims. See: Uniform Real property Transfer On Death Act, Sections 64.2-621, et seq., Code of Virginia (1950), as amended.

What Powers Do You Have with Respect to Real Estate?

This is an area of frequent mistakes and misunderstandings:

         For testate estates (Decedents dying with a will)

  1. If the will of a decedent directs the fiduciary to sell real estate then it is to be sold and the proceeds added to the estate as directed by the will.
  2. Wills generally include the power of sale by specific language or by the incorporation by reference of Section 64.2-105, Code of Virginia (1950)(previously 64.1-57, Code of Virginia), as amended.  This is not an order to sell.  If the estate has sufficient assets to pay its debts and all specific bequests, and the personal representative does not need to sell the real estate to satisfy a mortgage or to pay other debts and expenses of the estate, it is generally not necessary for an executor to sell real estate.  The reason for this is that real estate is the last asset of a decedent which is looked to for the payment of the decedent’s debts.  Personal property must be exhausted before real estate is sold to pay the decedent’s obligations.
  3. Quite often it is desirable for the executor who has power of sale to sell the real estate rather than have the real estate pass to the named beneficiary.  If the beneficiary is a minor it is generally undesirable to have a minor own real estate, especially a very young beneficiary.  It is recommended that the fiduciary obtain the approval of the Commissioner of Accounts for the sale of the minor’s property rather than a distribution of the real estate to the minor.  In that manner the minor receives the benefit of the real estate but in the form of cash which is held in trust, or in a custodial or guardianship account until the minor reaches the age of majority (18) or distribution as provided by the will.
          Often there are many beneficiaries of the real estate.  If the residuary provisions of the will have many beneficiaries inheriting real property, it is unlikely that those beneficiaries will be able to agree on the disposition of the real estate or they may not wish to own a minority interest in the real estate.  With the consent of the Commissioner of Accounts and/or the written consent of all residuary beneficiaries, the executor may sell the real estate (provided he has power of sale) and administer the net proceeds as part of the estate, saving the residuary beneficiaries from the tedious process of circulating sales contracts, listing agreements, deeds and other documents for the consent of all to obtain the sale.            
  4. NOTE : Specifically devised real estate should not be sold by the executor except in very rare situations, which should be discussed with legal counsel.

      For intestate estates (Decedents dying without a will)

  1. Intestate succession to real estate is a completely different situation.  The administrator of an estate of a decedent who died without a will has no power of sale over real estate without specific order of the Court.  This order may be obtained by petition to the Court requesting the power to administer and sell real estate.  This is necessary only where the real estate is needed to satisfy debts and obligations of the estate or satisfy an existing mortgage.  The services of an attorney are necessary in determining if it is prudent to request the power of sale, and if so in filing the petition and obtaining the order.  Without that order, an administrator has no control over the real estate of a decedent.  It is not part of the probate estate and will pass by operation of law to the intestate beneficiaries, subject to being taken by the administrator under Court order granting the power of sale.  Do not try to sell real estate as an administrator without having received the authority of the Court to do so.

          Consult with an attorney to determine if petitioning for the power to sell is prudent.

Payment of Taxes

It is the personal representative's obligation to pay various types of taxes that may be associated with estate administration.

  1. The decedent’s final income tax return must be filed.  This is for income earned during the year of the decedent’s death up to the date of death, and will be reported under the decedent’s social security number.  This applies to Virginia and federal income taxes. NOTE: Prior unfiled years will also have to be filed.
  2. The estate may be subject to a fiduciary income tax owed by the estate on income earned by the estate from the date of qualification until the close out of the estate.  If the estate has income from interest, dividends, rents or other sources during administration, fiduciary income tax would be payable to Virginia and to the federal government.  You should consult with a CPA as to the estate’s liability to pay all income taxes.
  3. The estate may be subject to Estate Taxes.  Most estates are not subject to estate taxes either on the Virginia or federal level.  There is currently an exemption for an estate from the payment of federal estate taxes which results in most estates not having to file federal estate tax returns.. This however may change, and possibly on a retroactive basis. (Note that this exemption limit is subject to continuous modification).  If the taxable estate does not exceed the exemption value established by Congress no estate taxes are payable.  However, you should consult with a CPA or an estate tax attorney to determine whether or not the total taxable estate exceeds the current federal exemption.

    Remember:  You will be administering assets which are part of the probate estate, but the total taxable estate may be much larger because of assets passing by survivorship,  pay on death, T.O.D. designation, or beneficiary designation such as real estate, life insurance, and bank or investment accounts or as part of a trust.