A solid estate plan includes many details. A major one is having the right executor, or personal representative, whose job it is to fulfill the wishes of the testator -- the person who makes the will.
It takes special skills to be an executor due to many legal and financial responsibilities. For example, the executor collects assets, pays bills and resolves legal and tax issues. A good executor likely will make the estate settlement a smooth process. A bad one, however, may complicate matters through incompetence, conflicts of interest, inadequate communication skills, or even a lack of appreciation for the great responsibility the role requires.
Dependable, responsible and trustworthy
When naming an executor, you want to make sure the person is dependable, responsible and trustworthy. Before choosing one, you should first obtain that person's consent. Talk with them beforehand to see if they would be willing to take on this important task.
Candidates, who may include a spouse, child, close friend, or even a professional fiduciary, should be comfortable dealing with legal and financial issues. In addition, name at least one alternative executor, preferably two.
Among an executor's duties include:
- Contacting the will's beneficiaries
- Opening and completing a full probate matter in probate court (if the probate estate has a gross value of $150,000 or more)
- Contacting Social Security, insurance companies and banks, informing them of the testator's death
- Evaluating and managing the estate's financial assets
- Collecting outstanding debts
- Paying income taxes, outstanding bills and estate taxes
- Distributing property and assets among heirs
And don't forget that executors are entitled to a fee, usually based on the nature of his or her relationship with the testator as well as the complications of the job. A good executor knows his or her limits, as well as the potential liability that may arise if any mistakes are made along the way. That's why it would be advantageous for him or her to retain a probate attorney.
Avoiding conflicts for smooth results
A good estate attorney will also offer feedback and suggestions when it comes time to make such a crucial and often overlooked decision such as choosing an executor.
After all is said and done, you will want things to go as smoothly as possible when your estate gets settled. Wouldn't you rather have your beneficiaries smile with contentment and peace of mind rather than grumbling about your lack of decisiveness and poor decision-making when you created your will?