“Choosing an Executor” might sound like you need to pick a character out of a medieval drama, possibly the villain who terrorizes the hero with skillful tyranny until they finally square off in the culmination of the story in an epic broadsword battle… but in actuality it’s much more complicated and far less treacherous.
In essence, the executor is the individual named in the will who inherits the most responsibility after the death of the individual. This person is solely responsible for a multitude of tasks, including:
These responsibilities can last years and even decades (in extreme and unusual circumstances) and require a high level of financial acumen, stamina, patience, and acute attention to detail for little to no compensation. Through our years of experience with estate planning and probate, we’ve been able to narrow down 4 core attributes to help you select the best candidate for the position of executor.
This one is a bit of a no brainer, but when we talk about trust, we’re talking about it in more ways than one:
Communication The executor needs to be able to accurately communicate with all the family, friends, and heirs of the deceased in a compassionate, authoritative way. They’ll be walking through this process in a very tense, emotional time in these people’s lives. They need to be both empathetic and diplomatic in explaining to all parties why actions are being taken in accordance with the will. And believe it or not, some people aren’t going to like being told they aren’t getting the inheritance they were expecting.
Decision-making The executor will be making tough decisions should the need arise. Sometimes directions in a will aren’t crystal clear. When that happens the executor has the power to determine how a particular asset is distributed. For instance, two children might be squabbling over an antique car that was neglected in the will. The executor has to make tough decisions, while also appeasing all parties involved.
You’ve got two choices when naming an executor: someone who’s family and someone who’s not. We recommend the former when feasible. The closer a person is to you the more likely they’ll understand the intentions of your will. They’ll know you, your family, and your friends.
More importantly, they’ll genuinely care about the outcome for all parties involved. Additionally, if something wasn’t included in your assets they’ll probably have a pretty good idea how to locate and liquidate them, and they’ll do it with your best interests in mind.
It may be obvious, but you probably don’t want to put your son with the gambling problem in charge of your money after you die. But more than that, your executor needs to be all-around responsible. This executor is required to do a multitude of time-consuming tasks including paying claims against the estate (taxes and debts) which could mean liquidating assets (selling stocks, bonds, high-money items like cars, furniture, houses) in order to pay those claims.
Now, just because you name a person as executor, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to do all these things. They could easily hire a CPA, lawyer, or other professional to take those responsibilities, and, if they do, then you’ll want to name someone who has the wherewithal to hire the most qualified individuals to take up those duties.
Attending hearings, checking the mail, doing property maintenance, filing budgets, attending meetings with beneficiaries, collecting assets — these often require multiple occurrences over a long period of time. When you consider all of the time and travel required to perform those duties, it becomes very clear that being an executor is, well, time consuming. The closer your executor lives to you, the easier it’s going to be for them to take care of all the necessary business.
Additionally, some states have laws that prevent or limit naming out-of-state executors. And sometimes, an out-of-state individual can only be named executor if they’re directly related to the deceased. Check with your lawyer about your specific state’s limitations. Texas allows you to name an out-of-state executor, but the executor must name a “resident agent” who is in state.
We always recommend you seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney when making important legal decisions like choosing an Executor. A qualified estate attorney can be a priceless voice of experience to help you choose your Executor the right way. At Romano & Sumner, we pride ourselves on our ability to assist our clients in navigating complex legal processes like estate planning or creating a will. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us today.
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