Choosing an executor is not easy, but it is very important. A person who is not capable of managing the tasks can turn even the best estate plan upside down.
Part of creating an estate plan is naming an executor who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes of the decedent, according to a recent item on InsuranceNewsNetMagazine.com, “The Wrong Executor Can Destroy Even the Best Estate Planning.” These tasks include everything from making sure that assets are distributed to tidying up outstanding debts and cleaning out houses. It’s important to select a person who can manage these tasks and—if they are stymied—who will recognize when they need help from professionals.
Executors sometimes are under the impression that it’s a quick and easy job. This might be the fault of the testator or the person who has executed the will. They select an executor and believe that he or she possesses the ability, acumen, time, and desire to carry out the duties of the position. Many don’t inquire as to whether the executor is interested in and capable of serving, or the chosen executor may be hesitant to say no.
Prior to designating an executor, the testator should understand the role and consider whether the potential executor has the qualities to handle the job. In addition, the testator should discuss the decision thoroughly with the chosen executor so everyone understands the expectations and what is needed to do the job.
A big mistake is an executor’s failure to communicate adequately with the decedent’s family, friends, heirs, and loved ones. People like to be kept updated and to understand why some things have been done or not done. This can help keep peace and family harmony at a very emotional time.
On such example involves family heirlooms. The executor can distribute the assets as he or she wants as long as his or her actions comply with the will, but beneficiaries may have particular interests in specific assets like heirlooms and collectibles. There can be headaches and heartaches if the executor unwittingly distributes an item to another heir who’s not as emotionally tied to the item. It’s best to talk to the heirs and determine their preferences.
Another problem can arise when the heirs aren’t satisfied with the time needed to finalize the estate—particularly if one of the heirs is also the executor. Conduct regular update meetings with all parties who have an interest in the estate.
An executor’s job isn’t simply to distribute wealth—it’s to make certain that all debts and liabilities are discovered and resolved and to handle and finalize the decedent’s day-to-day affairs. The list of the executor’s duties is quite long and includes the following:
- Dealing with the court to probate the will and distribute the assets;
- Collecting all of the assets, which means combing through the decedent’s belongings and records and also dealing with banks, brokerage houses, insurance companies, and the decedent’s employer;
- Valuing assets;
- Keeping the assets safe;
- Handling the decedent’s creditors;
- Maintaining businesses while the estate process is proceeding;
- Winding up the decedent’s last affairs; and
- Filing tax returns and investigating estate taxes.
Sometimes being an executor can feel like a thankless task, especially since the person who is most appreciative of your efforts, time and dedication is not able to say thank you. But starting with a clear understanding of the tasks at hand and having a team of professionals—including an estate planning attorney and a CPA—can help you move through the process.
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