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What can an executor do to a decedent's home?

If a family member dies and there is no other close family member that will continue to live in the home of the deceased, typically an executor will be put in charge of the property until it is ready to pass to beneficiaries listed in a will or whoever an Iowa judge deems should possess the home in probate. But what if the executor alters or changes the home before the beneficiaries can take possession? While an executor holds great authority over the assets of a decedent, it is not absolute.

According to the American Bar Association, an executor is responsible for the maintenance of the property of the deceased. The executor derives his or her authority from the will of the deceased, or if the person died without a will, the intestacy laws of the state. These requirements mean the executor can only do what is required by the deceased’s will or by law, and thus can only carry out actions that will further the wishes of the deceased or what the law decrees.

Given these facts, if the executor wants to remodel the decedent's living room or kitchen, or add on to the home, the executor may only do so if the will states it. Otherwise, the executor should not substantially alter the home. However, if the will states that improvements should be made to the house in preparation for the beneficiaries to receive it, the executor may implement these changes.

Conversely, an executor is not only barred from substantially changing the home of the deceased without authorization, but the executor must not omit any actions that, if not carried out, can cause damage to the property. For example, if the executor fails to pay bills or taxes relating to the home or permits the home's insurance policy to expire, the estate could incur fines and penalties that might be paid out of the estate’s assets. Also, an executor might fail to maintain the home in such a way that it loses some of its real estate value. 

Given these facts, it is wise for anyone composing a will to make their wishes known concerning a home or a piece of property. Such details in a last will and testament will provide clear guidance for executors and beneficiaries as to how the property of a decedent is to be treated.

This article is intended to educate readers on executor authority and should not be taken as legal advice.

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