Choosing an executor – the person or institution you put in charge of administering your estate and carrying out your final wishes – is one of the most important decisions in preparing a will.
Picking the right executor can help ensure the prompt, accurate distribution of your possessions with a minimum of family friction. Some of the duties required include:
- Filing court papers to start the probate process (this is generally required by law to determine the will’s validity).
- Taking an inventory of everything in the estate.
- Using your estate’s funds to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.
- Handling details like terminating credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of the death.
- Preparing and filing final income tax returns.
- Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the will.
Given all the responsibility, the ideal candidate should be someone who is honest, dependable, well organized, good with paperwork and vigilant about meeting deadlines.
Choosing an Executor
Most people think first of naming a family member, especially a spouse or child, as executor. If, however, you don’t have an obvious family member to choose, you may want to ask a trusted friend, but be sure to choose someone in good health or younger than you who will likely be around after you’re gone.
Also, if your executor of choice happens to live in another state, you’ll need to check your state’s law to see if it imposes any special requirements. Some states require an out-of-state executor to be a family member or a beneficiary, some require a bond to protect your heirs in case of mismanagement and some require the appointment of an in-state agent.
Also keep in mind that if the person you choose needs help settling your estate, they can always call on an expert like an attorney or tax accountant to guide them through the process, with your estate picking up the cost.
If, however, you don’t have a friend or relative you feel comfortable with, you could name a third party executor like a bank, trust company or a professional who has experience dealing with estates. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys are great resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.
Most family members and close friends (especially if they are a beneficiary) serve for free, but if you opt for a third party executor, it will cost your estate. Executor fees are set by each state and typically run anywhere from 1 to 5 percent depending on the size of the estate.
Whoever you choose to serve as your executor, be sure you get their approval first before naming him or her in your will. And once you’ve made your choice, go over your financial details in your will with that person, and let him or her know where you keep all your important documents and financial information. This will make it easier on them after you’re gone.
For More info
For more information on the duties of an executor, get a copy of the book “The American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates” fourth edition for $17 at 800-285-2221.
Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.