skip to content

Refine results

Search by

Search by Algolia
Law Handbook banner image

Duties of executors

An executor is responsible for seeing that the terms of the will are carried out. The basic duties of an executor are to collect the assets of the deceased, pay the debts and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries under the will. How this is done depends on the terms of the will and the nature of the estate. A person can be an executor and arrange for a lawyer to complete the legal documents and the search for assets or may do it without a lawyer. Being an executor may involve all or any of the following:

  • making the funeral arrangements
  • disposing of the remains of the testator
  • applying for a certified copy (not an extract) of the death certificate from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Consumer and Business Services)
  • locating and identifying property belonging to the testator.

From the proceeds of the deceased's estate the executor must pay, in the following order:

  • the funeral expenses
  • the testamentary (legal) expenses
  • any statutory obligations (such as taxation)
  • any other debts.

This priority of payment is also followed when a person dies leaving more debts than assets.

Specific items left to beneficiaries are given to them, and in the case of items such as personal belongings, this may be done soon after the death of the deceased. However, if the deceased left gifts of money, the deceased's assets may have to be sold (realised) in order to obtain the money for distribution.

The selling of assets must be performed with diligence; in other words as soon as practicable. However it can often take up to one year to distribute an estate. If an executor does not act diligently, the beneficiaries may complain to the court. This is the only right of a beneficiary before distribution, as the beneficiary does not own the property until the executor distributes the estate.

The Australian Death Notification Service notifies participating organisations (for example certain banks, utilities providers and superannuation companies) that someone has died. It is a free federal government initiative to help people get in touch with multiple organisations using a single online notification. Before using the service, a death certificate needs to have been registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Consumer and Business Services). The service only works where the certificate matches the details provided to the record.

Duties of executors  :  Last Revised: Fri Jun 24th 2022
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.