Are you choosing an executor for your estate or has someone asked you to serve as an executor?
Before making your decision, you’ll want to have a good understanding of what an executor, also called a personal representative, does.
The executor is the person in charge of probating a deceased person’s estate. It’s not an honorary position. An executor has a lot of responsibility. Probating an estate can involve hours of work and take six months to a year, if not longer, depending on its complexity.
The executor’s job is to carry out the decedent’s wishes as specified in his or her will. An executor’s responsibilities include processing the will through probate, paying debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. Here are a few things that you should keep in mind when looking to choose an executor.
Some Matters to Keep In Mind
Executors are entitled to compensation for their work. The way the compensation is calculated varies from state to state. In some states, the executor is paid a percentage of the value of the estate. In others, the executor is paid an hourly rate. Some allow the judge to establish the fee. The executor’s compensation comes from the assets of the estate. Executors often waive the fee, especially when they are the principal beneficiaries of the estate.
An executor has a fiduciary duty to the creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. This means that the executor must act with the highest level of honesty and good faith to ensure creditors are paid, estate assets are protected, and beneficiaries receive what they are entitled to. The executor can be held personally liable for breach of fiduciary duty.
The task of shepherding an estate through probate may seem sufficiently daunting to discourage many people from accepting the job. But remember, the executor does not have to handle the probate process alone. He or she can hire a probate attorney to prepare all court filings and notices and guide the executor through each step of the process. An attorney may be required in some states.
Probate may not be needed if all the deceased’s assets were owned in a way that allows them to pass outside of probate. For example, assets held jointly with right of survivorship pass
An executor has a fiduciary duty to the creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. This means that the executor must act with the highest level of honesty and good faith to ensure creditors are paid, estate assets are protected, and beneficiaries receive what they are entitled to.
Hiring an attorney is recommended especially if disgruntled beneficiaries are expected. Often the attorney who drafted the decedent’s will also handles probate matters and may be a good choice. The executor may also need the services of an appraiser, investment advisor, and tax preparer. Compensation for these experts does not come from the executor’s pocket, but rather from the estate.
Declining the appointment.
Serving as an executor is both an honor and a burden. Sometimes, the burden may simply be too much. A
person may agree to serve as an executor, but when the time comes, decide that he or she can’t do it. Being named as executor in a will does not obligate the person to accept the appointment. For this reason, estate planning attorneys recommend that people choose one or more alternates to serve if the person originally chosen is unable or unwilling to do so.