What You Need to Succeed as Executor

Someone has asked you to be an executor for them. You’d like to do it and feel honored by the request, but you want to make sure you can handle all the details and meet the requirements of the role.

Let’s start with what an executor is. An executor is a person who has been asked to “execute” or carry out the instructions in a will. The person who owns the estate is called the “testator.” The testator, or sometimes a court, appoints an executor who takes on the wishes laid out by the will.

Here are some things to know about the role and how best to prepare for it.

The responsibilities

According to our friends at Cake, though rules vary state-by-state, there are generally ten things an executor will be responsible for:

  • Gathering legal documents
  • Petitioning the court for probate
  • Appraising the estate (cars, houses, etc.)
  • Notifying creditors and heirs
  • Managing the property in the estate
  • Paying debts
  • Paying taxes
  • Distributing assets
  • Preparing final accounting
  • Closing the estate

The paper trail

Before you agree to take on the role of executor, ask for these documents and this information and request all continue to be updated:

  • Bank statements, info on bills, debts and assets
  • Tax records, online passwords, names of lawyers, accountants, etc.
  • A copy of the will and other important documents

Settling an estate often requires probate. If well-prepared, an executor should be able to manage probate without a lot of headaches, but if the estate is complex, the probate process will be longer.

These situations tend to be more complicated:

  • Blended families or pending divorce
  • Real estate in different jurisdictions
  • Significant tax consequences or bankruptcy
  • Significant or complex business interests
  • Significant debt

Navigating complexity

The larger the estate, the more likely it is to be complicated. But even small estates with few beneficiaries can be problematic. Understanding the family dynamics involved early on can help you navigate potentially tricky situations.

Some options for making your job easier include hiring additional professional support if necessary or asking the testator to downsize the estate now where possible (for example, selling property that is out of state or gifting assets and heirlooms while alive).

The gift of time

Perhaps your most precious resource to consider is your time. Consider whether you have enough to properly handle all the tasks involved.

For those who do have the time and the documentation, it is truly a gift for the person who requested you serve and their family. With the right preparation, the job will be much easier.

If it is possible to partner with the person making the request during their lifetime, you can make it work more smoothly together. If the role comes to you without the benefit of that person still being around, don’t hesitate to get the support you need to make it work. There’s no shortage of professionals who can help you through the process. Either way, know that by serving as executor, you are giving the gift of peace of mind to all involved.

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