Who Should Be Your Executor?

This is often a difficult question for someone preparing their will.  It may be helpful to understand what an executor does in order to make the best decision.  An executor, simply put, will be responsible for handling your affairs after you pass away.  Some typical duties include:

  1. Probating your will.  This includes hiring an attorney to handle the court filings and attending a hearing at the courthouse. 
  2. Gathering up your assets.  This usually just means finding out what you owned and changing the name of the owner from you to your estate.
  3. Paying your debts.  If you have outstanding balances on credit cards or other debts, they will most likely be dealing with debt collection agencies.  If you owed any taxes at the time of your death, the executor must also deal with the taxing agency.
  4. Closing your estate by distributing your assets to the beneficiaries you have named in your will. 
Now knowing this, what should you look for in an executor?  Every estate is different, but in general, you should consider naming someone who is:

(1) Responsible.  You want someone who will do what you have asked them to do – which, if you have appointed them as executor, is to handle you final affairs;
(2) Trustworthy. Your executor will be granted the power to gather all your assets and have the power to distribute those assets.  You want someone who will give your beneficiaries their fair share under your will, not keep it all for himself;
(3) Some knowledge of business or finance is helpful, but not required.  The executor will have to hire an attorney to represent him if the will needs probating, and will also be dealing with banks, financial investment firms, and maybe collection agencies. Business background can be helpful in these matter, but if anything is over his head, he can always hire someone to help;
(4) Someone who can handle the added job duties of being an executor. Some estates do require quite a bit of work.  You don’t have to make someone quit their day job so they can be the executor of an estate, but consider someone’s schedule and life before you add this to their to do list; and
(5) Finally, someone who is not afraid to say “no.” Who knows what long-lost relatives may come forward asking about their share of inheritance?  Your executor may be put in a tough spot if you suspect anyone like this may show up.  The executor does not necessarily need to have an abrasive personality, but should know how to let such people know they are not entitled to more than you have left them.  This can be done personally by the executor, or through the executor’s attorney. 

The best thing you can do for your loved ones is to have a plan.  By preparing for when an executor is needed, you will make the job much easier for anyone you appoint.


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