Choosing an Executor for your Will

The designation of an executor for a will is one of the critical steps in effective estate planning. The executor will be the individual responsible for the administration of the estate. He or she must execute the necessary documents to submit the will for probate. Then the executor must gather all of the testator’s (person who makes the will) assets and distribute them in accordance with the terms of the will. Good recordkeeping will be essential because an accounting will have to be filed. Creditors’ claims will have to be dealt with, and estate tax returns may have to be filed.

In short, the job of the executor is a substantial responsibility and can be very time-consuming, especially when it comes to large or complicated estates. So that a suitable candidate can be named, the testator should take into account a variety of factors. These include the trustworthiness, sound judgment, financial acumen, age, and physical and mental capacity of the proposed executor. More than one executor can be named by the testator, and these coexecutors can share the duties of administering the estate.

In the case of married couples, the first instinct may be simply to name the other spouse as the executor and be done with it. While this may work just fine in some cases, the decision deserves more thought as to all of the ramifications of choosing one’s spouse as the executor. Will the mourning, surviving spouse be up to fulfilling all of the executor’s responsibilities so soon after suffering such a loss? If the spouses are about the same age, will the surviving spouse be too frail, physically or mentally, to do the job when the time comes, perhaps many years after the executor has been named? All in all, a better choice may be an adult son or daughter, a sibling, niece, or nephew, or a close and trusted friend.

The job of executor will be substantially easier if the testator has first done his or her job by keeping complete and accurate records of the assets that will comprise the estate. Upon naming the executor, the testator should review this information with the executor in detail. Another seemingly obvious matter that is often overlooked is simply making sure that the executor knows the location of all of the important papers relating to the estate.

As for payment for the executor’s services, if the estate is very simple, and especially if the executor is also a major beneficiary of the estate, additional compensation may not be necessary. Otherwise, the will may provide for a fee for the executor, which may be calculated as a flat fee, an hourly fee, or a percentage of the estate assets.

A testator should not forget an even more elementary first step: asking for the consent of the prospective executor, no matter how close a relationship there may be between the individuals. For the benefit of all concerned, the executor must be willing, not just able, to carry out the important responsibilities that come with this job.

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