Finalizing your Will and creating a plan for your estate can quickly leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed.
There are so many little details you have to think about and plan for — and laws you have to follow — that it’s easy to get lost in a sea of terminology and legalese.
Choosing an Executor of Estate is an extremely important decision, so you need all the crucial information upfront to make an informed choice.
What is an Executor of Estate?
The person responsible for bringing your Will to court and making sure it is carried out is called an Executor of Estate. An Executor of Estate performs several tasks to notify beneficiaries named in your Will and close the estate with the court.
Oftentimes, the person you choose to fulfill the role is a close family member or friend that will likely be around after you’re gone.
When you don’t have someone in your life suited to the job, you can choose to have a bank, trust company, or other institution act as your Executor of Estate instead.
You need to understand exactly what an Executor does and what skills they need to possess to perform their duties successfully before picking a person for the job.
Let’s dive into that now, and then we’ll cover eight ways you can prepare your Executor for their role.
What Does an Executor of Estate Do?
- Locate The Will: the Executor must bring the Will to court and verify its authenticity. If all the Executor has is a copy of the Will, he may need to search the deceased’s belongings for the original.
- Hire An Attorney: an Executor may decide to hire an attorney to ensure everything goes as it should, that the proper steps are taken, and all deadlines are met.
- Apply For Probate: the Executor will be granted “letters testamentary” or receive “letters of administration” that authorizes him to begin his Executor tasks (depending on if there is a Will or not).
- Notify Interested Parties: the Executor notifies beneficiaries and potential heirs that there is a Will and whether or not they are included in it.
- Manage The Deceased’s Property: an Executor protects the estate from loss and has it appraised.
- Pay Valid Claims By Creditors: debts left owed will be paid from the estate by the Executor.
- File Tax Returns: an Executor will file taxes for the estate on time.
- Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries: an Executor may be required to sell property or set up trusts.
- Keep Accurate Records: an Executor has to keep track of expenses and keep a record of everything he does.
- Close The Estate: once all beneficiaries have received their part of the estate and all debts have been paid, an Executor files a final report with the court to close the estate.
Recommended Reading: How to Talk to Your Spouse About Retirement Planning
How to Choose an Executor
Picking the right person to act as your Executor of Estate when you’re gone is tough.
It takes an average of 16 months to settle an estate, so you need someone responsible and capable of handling this delicate and sometimes complicated task — among other things.
Some questions you should ask yourself are:
- Are they qualified to be your Executor according to the law? Minors, former felons, and people who aren’t U.S. citizens currently living in the United States cannot act as an Executor of Estate.
- Is there family drama that could impact your choice? You need someone impartial. Sibling rivalries and family members who don’t get along can lead to a situation where the person acting as Executor may use their position to create delays and hardship to a beneficiary if they don’t feel the recipient deserves the inheritance. (44% of those surveyed for this research either experienced or were aware of family conflict, and 19% were aware of Executor misconduct.)
- Are they responsible and good at managing their finances? It stands to reason you don’t want someone controlling your estate who is not good at managing money. As a precaution, some courts may require the Executor to be bonded. “Bonding” as a form of insurance that pays beneficiaries should the named Executor run off with the money. People who have declared bankruptcy, have a poor credit history, or have creditors and liens against them wouldn’t be able to be bonded.
- Are they patient and calm under pressure? The Executor of Estate needs to be able to show tough love with beneficiaries and keep their cool in stressful situations. Choose a person who is level headed and used to diffusing conflict.
8 Ways to Prepare Your Executor
Now that you know what an Executor of Estate is, what they do, and how to choose the right person for the job, let’s look at eight ways you can prepare your Executor for the role.
Choosing the right person to act as your Executor is extremely important to ensure that your beneficiaries are taken care of, and your Estate is managed and closed correctly.
Take the time to think it through and pick someone responsible, good at managing money, and able to work with your beneficiaries, no matter the situation.
Once you have a person in mind, ask them if they will accept the job.
Consider having a back-up person in place in case your first choice doesn’t want to, has a change of heart, or can’t perform the duties. Once your second-in-line agrees, name your back-up person in your Will.
Naming and preparing your Executor is only one of the many responsibilities you have to undertake as you age. Having an experienced professional who can help you navigate the challenges can be invaluable.
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