Tips for choosing your executor

Estate Planning, Wills

Choosing your executor, who will administer your estate and carry out your final wishes, may be one of the most important decisions you make when preparing your will.

Before you name someone, get his approval and make sure he feels up to the task. An executor’s responsibilities including filing court papers to start probate and validate the will, inventorying the estate, notifying banks and government agencies, sorting out finances, maintaining all property until it’s distributed or sold, filing a final tax return, and distributing assets.

Depending on the size and nature of your estate, this work can seem like a complicated, daunting task. Recognize that serving as executor can be particularly complicated for someone who lives out of state. He or she will likely have to travel for probate appearances, and some states require a state resident to co-serve as executor or agent.

Your executor may seek legal counsel at any time during the process, to provide advice and help him comply with all of his responsibilities. That said, you may wish to save your friend or family member the hassle and hire a third-party executor from the get-go. Executor fees are set by the state, typically as a percentage of the estate, or you can negotiate an hourly fee. When a friend or family member serves as executor, they often waive this fee. However, they are entitled to take it or otherwise reimburse themselves for expenses associated with administering the estate.

Potential reasons not to name a family member:

  • The person will be too emotionally affected by your death to function adequately
  • He or she lacks the expertise to fill the position
  • Your executor will gain from the will, suggesting a possible conflict of interest with other heirs

If you don’t want to name an individual adviser (such as a lawyer or accountant) as your executor, you can appoint someone else you trust with the understanding that he or she will interview and select appropriate counsel when the time comes.

No matter who you choose as executor, tell your heirs ahead of time so they’re not surprised. Beware of naming multiple children as co-executors. Even if they all agree on how to move forward, they’ll need to co-sign all the necessary paperwork involved in the executor role, creating headaches and delays for all involved.  But always name an alternate in case your first choice is no longer able to serve.

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