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Should I Serve as an Executor?

Posted by Paul D. Woodard | Mar 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

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Accepting the job of being an executor can be a mixed blessing. An executor, also known as a personal representative, is the person who has the legal responsibility to take care of a deceased person's estate after they pass away. Before accepting the duties and responsibilities of an executor, make sure you understand the role and know where to turn if you need help.

You have many options when nominating an executor. An executor can be a spouse, child, friend, relative, attorney, or even a bank or financial institution. An executor can be named in a will or appointed by the probate court. The complexity of the job depends on a number of factors, including the value of the deceased person's estate plan and the number of assets left behind.

After someone dies, the personal representative is responsible for taking care of their estate. This generally includes paying taxes and debts out of the estate, providing for the maintenance of all estate property until it is distributed, appearing on behalf of the estate in probate court, and distributing assets and property according to the decedent's will.

Some individuals make it a point to talk to the proposed executor before naming them to the role. This permits the proposed executor to consider the position before deciding to accept or not. However, many people are surprised to learn they have been named as an executor. If such is the case, do not fret. Even if you are named in someone else's will as executor, you can decline to serve as executor. If you decline, then the court will generally appoint another individual or entity to serve as the personal representative of the estate.

There are a number of potential reasons why an individual may not want to serve as an executor. For many of us, the time immediately after the passing of a loved one can be very emotional. Depending on how close the executor is to the deceased, handling the finances and distribution duties of an estate can be overwhelming.

Even if an executor is financially savvy, they may end up biting off more than they can handle especially when confronted with a more complex estate than originally anticipated. For example, the deceased may have left multiple and conflicting wills, have financial accounts spread across different states, or have substantial international business investments. The complexity of the estate will also impact the amount of time it takes to fully administer the estate. Even a simple estate can take months to wrap up and a complex estate could take years to settle.

Family dynamics should also be considered before accepting to serve as an executor. Distributing the assets of a will can turn into a highly contested family feud. Family members may dispute the validity of the will and blame the executor for any perceived unfairness or conflicts of interest. An executor may not want to get tangled up in the disputes and instead leave the responsibility to an outside party.

Even if an executor feels they are having a difficult time handling their duties because of family conflicts, complex estates, or simply because they live far away, they can always ask for help. Properly delegating some responsibilities will take pressure off the executor while still ensuring the wishes of the deceased are carried out. An executor can have an attorney, accountant, or other professional help with handling the duties of an executor with fees and costs being paid out of the estate.

If you have any questions about what may be required if you are designated as an executor of someone's estate, Butterfield Schechter LLP is here to help. We will answer all your questions and make sure you are prepared to carry out the wishes of the individual's estate plan while protecting you and your interests. Contact our office today with any questions on how we can help you succeed.

About the Author

Paul D. Woodard

Paul Woodard practices in the areas of Employee Benefits, Employee Stock Ownership Plans, Pension and Profit Sharing Plans, ERISA, ERISA Litigation, Business Law, Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs), and Estate Planning.

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