As you lay the foundation for an estate plan, you must understand that you will be responsible for many decisions. A few that immediately come to mind include naming your beneficiaries and determining how much each will receive. Among the other crucial decisions remains choosing an executor.
Often with the help of an attorney, the executor ensures that the directives of the testator – the person who created the will – are fulfilled. An executor should be a trusted and, ideally, financially savvy person whose main task is to protect the estate. That person has many legal and financial duties that include safeguarding and identifying the testator’s property as well as selling assets, paying creditors and beneficiaries and resolving tax matters. Having a reliable executor likely ensures a smooth probate process. On the other hand, an incompetent executor only complicates the proceedings.
A reliable and trustworthy person
When choosing an executor, carefully think about a few candidates whom you think are up to the task. This person should be responsible, dependable, trustworthy, organized and who has your and the estate’s best interests in mind. Once you have made the decision, ask that person – a close friend, relative, spouse or child – if they would be willing to take on this role. You can even name co-executors, but also make sure to name an alternate executor.
Your chosen executor should understand the various responsibilities within that role. They include:
- Contacting the beneficiaries named in the will.
- Presenting and delivering the will to the judge in probate court.
- Informing specific institutions of the testator’s death. This includes contacting banks, insurance companies and the Social Security Administration.
- Reviewing and overseeing all financial assets of the estate. This likely includes selling certain assets.
- Collecting any outstanding debts for the estate.
- Ensuring that all outstanding bills, estate taxes and income taxes get paid.
- Resolving disputes among heirs.
- Distributing all remaining assets and property among the beneficiaries.
Can this person effectively fulfill the executor role? Is there the potential for conflicts of interest? These are some of the questions you must ponder when selecting an executor. Ideally, you want someone who helps your legacy live on with your beneficiaries.