What does an executor of a will do?

15 December 2023

Guide Wills Executors

What does an executor of a will do?

When someone writes their will, they have to choose an executor. The executor is then responsible for making sure the person’s final wishes are carried out after they die.


The executor’s role begins as soon as the person has passed away.

I have been appointed as an executor in a will, now what?

As the executor, it’s now your responsibility to administer the person’s estate. The estate includes all the person’s assets and liabilities. Their assets are their property and belongings that have value, such as a house, car, shares and investments. Their liabilities consist of any money they may owe, such as a mortgage or a loan.


Your first job is to find the person’s original will and arrange the funeral. Some of the other tasks that the executor usually needs to do include:

  • Applying for a death certificate
  • Applying for a grant of probate
  • Finding and contacting the beneficiaries (people who are left something in the person’s will), including anyone interstate or overseas
  • Protecting the person’s assets. You need to make sure the assets are safe so that they can be given out as the person wanted them to be. This might include taking out insurance or making an inventory
  • Providing death notifications to the Australian Tax Office, Centrelink and banks
  • Paying any outstanding bills and debts from estate funds and arranging to have assets valued
  • Defending the estate against legal action
  • Resolving disputes between beneficiaries
  • Lodging tax returns if needed
  • Claiming life insurance and superannuation
  • Setting up trusts and administering them, if that is part of the instructions in the will. A trust might be set up to look after and protect assets for a child until they reach a certain age
  • Dealing with any real estate that is part of the estate, including getting the property ready for sale
  • Distributing assets according to what is in the will
  • Providing a full accounting of your administration of the estate to beneficiaries.

You can choose to administer the estate yourself or ask a trustee company, like us, to administer the estate for you.

Executor checklist

To find out more, our executor checklist has:

  • An outline of an executor’s roles and legal responsibilities
  • A checklist of the different tasks an executor needs to do to administer an estate
  • Information about how to apply for a grant of probate.

What if no will can be found?

This means the deceased is intestate. In these cases, the estate is distributed in accordance with the laws of intestacy. These laws dictate a particular order of payment to the family members of the deceased.

What is the role of an executor?

  • An executor must notify the beneficiaries of the Will: All beneficiaries must be located and contacted (including those who are overseas).
  • Debts and liabilities must be dealt with:Debts must be paid, or passed on. If you are an Executor, you’ll need to establish a complete picture of the deceased’s finances. This includes identifying any debtors and creditors. Funeral expenses, income tax, fees for administering the estate and out-of-pocket expenses must also be paid.
  • An executor is responsible for everyday tasks: An Executor must arrange for pets to be cared for, redirect mail, cancel services and pay any outstanding bills.
  • They have to insure the estate: An Executor is responsible for all the assets until they have been passed on. An Executor must identify the estate assets, including any that are interstate or overseas. This includes homes, cars, superannuation, jewellery, investments and home contents. These must all be valued, secured and insured.
  • They must attend to any businesses: An Executor must deal with any business the deceased had an interest in. This may include determining if the business operates as a Sole Trader, Partnership or Company. The Executor may be required to carry on the running of the business or wind up the business, sell real estate and other assets, organise tax issues and invest funds in a prudent manner.
  • There can be legal risks: An Executor is responsible for resolving estate issues, liabilities and disputes. This may consist of challenges to the will including family maintenance claims, entitlement issues and beneficiary disputes.
  • An executor must lodge the tax return: If you are an Executor, you need to obtain clearance from the Australian Taxation Office before the estate can be distributed. Otherwise you run the risk of being personally liable for any outstanding tax. You’ll need to gather details of all income earnt by the deceased in the years prior to their death and during the time since their death. You then must prepare a date of death tax return – and maybe prior returns for the deceased if they have not lodged for some time – and an estate tax return
  • An executor may need to sell the assets: It depends on the Will and the estate. An Executor is responsible for selling or transferring assets to the beneficiaries. This includes houses, land, shares and investments. If the assets are sold, you’ll need to take into account any costs of sale and any capital gains tax.

What happens when all debts have been paid?

You can distribute the remaining assets according to the will. You will need to account for funeral expenses, debts and the management of any claims. And you’ll need to prepare a statement for all beneficiaries detailing all transactions.

Who is responsible for trusts?

An Executor is usually the trustee for trusts set up in the will. This can include trusts set up for beneficiaries under 18 years of age. These trusts need ongoing administration, often over many years.

An Executor can authorise someone else to act as Executor

AA lot can happen between agreeing to be an executor and becoming one. If you’ve been appointed as executor but don’t believe you have the capacity to fulfil the required duties, you can choose to authorise State Trustees to to administer the estate on your behalf.

How we can help

State Trustees can manage the estate on your behalf or we can assist with completing tasks related to the deceased’s estate. We always act impartially and in the best interest of the estate.


Here’s how we can help:

  • Deceased Estate Administration: This option comprises full and convenient end-to-end estate administration; it is best suited to executors who are seeking the peace of mind that the experts are taking care of everything.
  • Executor Assist: This option can provide support with specific tasks; it is best suited to executors who wish to remain in the role but feel unsure or are inexperienced. They may need help with specific tasks, such as obtaining probate or lodging a tax return.
  • An executor is responsible for everyday tasks: An Executor must arrange for pets to be cared for, redirect mail, cancel services and pay any outstanding bills.

Every estate is unique. Some may be complicated or others may be straightforward. Sometimes an estate may appear straight forward, but unexpected complications may arise. As Victoria’s leading estate administrator, State Trustees is experienced in all types of estates.


Explore the resources State Trustees offers or call us for obligation free advice on 1300 138 672.

Useful resources


Will writing guide

Read more

Executor checklist

Read more

8 reasons to update your will

Read more

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Original artwork ‘Four Sisters Coming Together’ by Melissa Bell 2023