Here's the question:
"I am the executor for a friend that recently passed away [in another city]. I can do all the executor duties such that are administrative from home, but find it difficult to do the actual sorting of the house (clothes, furniture, stuff) because of the distance involved. Can I hire someone to do this manual work? Does the cost of this service come from the executor fee or is it considered an out of pocket expense?"
I would advise an executor to go through the house before hiring any sorters or cleaners, to check for small valuables (cash, jewelry, key to safe deposit box), important mementos (photo albums, framed certificates) and paperwork (I.D. cards, marriage certificate, birth certificate, credit cards, insurance policies, vehicle pink slip, bank statements, title deeds, etc). The executor must understand what's in the house. If the will leaves a specific item to a specific person, find that item and remove it to a secure place.
The executor should protect the estate against identity theft by removing or shredding the deceased's private information.
When hiring cleaners, make sure you give clear instructions about what is to be done with items taken from the home. Are they to be thrown away? Boxed and put into the garage?
The cost of hiring cleaners and sorters does not have to come out of the executor's fee. It is a legitimate cost of administering the estate. However, the executor should be absolutely clear on what is going to be paid and should keep the cost reasonable. Often a family member takes it upon himself or herself to do the cleaning and sorting because they don't want a stranger to do that. This is fine, as long as the individual doesn't then try to charge an exhorbitant amount for the work.
In many wills, there is a specified power or authority for the executor to hire "agents", which can include lawyers, accountants, appraisers, realtors and anyone else needed to carry out a smooth estate administration. This clause is included for the information of the executor and the beneficiaries so that everyone understands that the executor can't necessarily do all jobs himself or herself. Even without this clause, an executor can hire the help needed.