Considerations when Choosing Your Executor

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While no one would likely characterize drafting a will as an exciting task, it certainly is an essential one. After all, over the course of your life you've built a unique legacy — one that is marked not only by your personality, character, passions, friends and family, but also by the assets you've accrued, savings, investments, charitable causes and most treasured possessions. Surely, you wouldn't want that legacy to end up in the probate courts, so you must appoint an executor to manage your will and/or estate. Designating an executor is equally important as creating a will; therefore, you must exercise just as much careful thought when selecting the individual who will serve in this capacity.

The executor of your will bears a number of responsibilities after your death, so if you want your final wishes to be followed to the T, choosing the right person to carry out those responsibilities is absolutely imperative. Equally important, however — especially when you consider the weight of the executor's obligations — is ensuring the person you appoint as executor is willing to assume this time-consuming responsibility, so be sure to ask anyone whom you may be considering to serve in this role if they'd accept the obligation before naming anyone as executor.

What Are the Responsibilities of an Executor?

Understanding the full role of an executor will help you make an informed decision. If you don't think someone you may be considering could realistically and responsibly carry out these duties, cross him or her off your list — even if you have just a shadow of doubt. Typical responsibilities of an executor include:

  • Collecting and distributing your assets as specified in your will
  • Paying any of your outstanding debts as well as bills for the estate
  • Paying taxes on your estate
  • Maintaining your property and managing any real estate (until the estate has been settled)
  • Making court appearances on behalf of your estate
  • Having your will probated
  • Investing and/or managing any of your estate's assets
  • Paying administration expenses
  • After all bills and taxes have been squared away, the executor is charged with reading your will both to determine and distribute your assets

What Qualities Should an Executor Possess?

Consider yourself warned: Due to differing family dynamics, the impact of your decision (especially if poorly communicated) could lead to bitter family infighting, and in extreme cases, contesting of the will, so be prepared to explain your decision to family members who express disappointment or anger in your choice of executor. Of course, this assumes that you've communicated your wishes to your family prior to your death, so although it may not be the easiest or most comfortable of conversations, sharing your plans well in advance of your death affords you an element of certainty and control over the situation while you're still around to assert it.

Family dynamics aside, though, your executor should be someone who communicates well and is also honest, organized, diligent, trustworthy and responsible. Ideally, this individual lives nearby — preferably in the same state — and is also named as a major beneficiary. Simply put, someone who stands to benefit from managing the will is more likely to be motivated to carry out their numerous responsibilities, and living in the same state makes attending to any necessary property upkeep or court appearances much easier for a would-be executor.

Who Should Be my Executor?

Since most wills tend to be fairly direct, the person who serves as your executor doesn't need to possess any special tax or legal knowledge, so you can choose almost anyone to serve in this role, provided you trust them. And even if your estate is more difficult and detailed than usual, your executor can always use funds from the estate to hire an attorney to assist them. Most people select one of the following people to serve in this role:

  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Siblings
  • Close, longtime friends
  • Attorneys
  • Financial advisors

Is there Anyone I Cannot Appoint as Executor?

For the most part, anyone can serve as your executor. Some states, however, do place restrictions on out-of-state executors, so if you do choose that route, be sure to check your state's laws on the subject. Some states require out-of-state executors to be the primary beneficiary of the will, while others will require the out-of-state executor to secure a bond to ensure your estate is protected from abuse or wrongful use. A few other common-sense exceptions include children under the age of 18 or convicted felons.

If you weigh the considerations outlined in this article carefully before making any decisions as to whom should serve as the executor of your will and estate, you'll rest much easier and be confident in knowing that you made the most appropriate choice when it comes to this very important decision.