It's a vital first step to long-term peace of mind: creating an estate plan. But no matter how thorough your estate plan is, choosing the right person to carry out your final wishes is essential. It can be challenging to pick an executor who can file paperwork on time and handle potentially volatile family relationships. Here are some recommendations that may help with such a weighty decision.
What is an executor?
An executor is the person appointed in the will to manage the estate, deal with the probate court, pay outstanding debts, collect assets, and distribute the estate according to the provisions of the will. This person in essence becomes a personal representative of the deceased. The executor is overseer, manager, distributor, and possible peacemaker in the execution of your estate plan.
What qualities are important?
Family members and friends who have demonstrated that they are trustworthy, honest, conscientious, and good with people are the best candidates. The executor can always hire an accountant or lawyer if the need arises. That also requires maturity. Most states help with this by restricting service as an executor to adults 19 years of age or older and without felony convictions. Outside professional executors are easy to find; they work for a fee.
You may also want to consider where your executor lives. An executor may need to spend a significant amount of time working with the courts in the deceased's area. If you feel that an out-of-state executor is the best choice, be sure to research your state's requirements before taking that step.
What else should I know before I ask someone?
Bear in mind that you may be asking someone to commit months or even years to handling your affairs. Glen Curtis at Forbes.com reports, “This includes making a list of all bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts, as well as any property the deceased owned. Additionally, an inventory of personal effects, such as collections, antiques, or other valuables, must be tabulated and presented to the probate court for review.” That's just the beginning. Honesty about the responsibility and amount of work involved in your particular plan is critical. Though it is largely a labor of love, compensating your executor may be the best way to say thank you. “Executors are not obligated to serve on your behalf, and many lawyers recommend you include in your WILL that the executor can pay themselves. You should also cap the amount they are allowed to pay themselves,” says Sarah Wilson at eHow.com.
A good executor's actions can mean the difference between an unnecessarily lengthy probate process and the timely distribution of assets. Most importantly, he or she can help provide peace of mind at a time when it's needed the most.
Curtis, Glen. “Choose the Right Executor,” Forbes.com; May 2, 2007.
Wilson, Sarah. “How to Choose the Executor of Your Estate,” ehow.com; Ehow Inc.