If you are working on an estate plan and finalizing your will, it is important to think through who you will name as executor. The executor for the will is in charge of finding the will, getting it probated, handling any funeral expenses from the estate finances, itemizing the estate assets for the probate court, and working with the probate court to finalize personal taxes and taxes for the estate or for any trusts.
The executor of the will is also responsible for distributing all assets according to your wishes once the estate is settled. Oftentimes, a large portion of time and energy could be spent handling difficult beneficiaries who have questions about the estate or want their inheritance before the executor is legally capable of going ahead with the distribution of assets.
With all of these responsibilities, many executors are paid for their time and energy. Usually the fee is from 1-5% of the estate unless your executor is a close relative or family friend already named in the will. You can always choose to hire a professional executor by naming a bank or financial institution as a corporate executor. The advantage of corporate executors is that they will almost definitely be available and able to serve when the time comes.
Hire a Professional Executor If:
- Your estate is super complex with multiple businesses or assets in other countries or if you have multiple trust funds or funds that need to be managed over the long term (such as a special needs trust)
- Your estate has a myriad of issues including relatives who might sue if they are not included as they like in the inheritance distribution
- You have no family or close friends in the state you live in
- You have had multiple children by multiple spouses
If you want to use a personal friend or acquaintance, here are some qualities to consider:
Organized & Efficient
Look for someone who has their ducks in a row. They stay busy doing what needs to be done and they do not put off projects or chores until the last minute. Someone who lives in reality and knows how to make a to-do list is ideal. If someone struggles with paying bills on time or has piles of things waiting for a rainy day all around their home, they may not be the best choice.
Look for an organized mind. A professional who has a stable job but is not overworked may be a good choice. Whoever you choose will have to work with realtors, financial professionals, and lawyers. If they don’t understand how to handle professional obligations, they will not bear the role of executor well.
Resourceful & Professional
Tax filings can be complicated and rigorous. A mathematical brain is wonderful for doing the types of calculations required in this position but is not necessary. Someone who knows how to ask for help when needed will serve just fine.
If an heirloom must have its value assessed, they can find the right person to do it. If the taxes involve complicated concepts and calculations, they know how to hire a tax professional and get the proper documentation organized. If the house should be sold, they hire a realtor and work with them to get the best buyer. When hospital bills come and the amounts are unreasonable or should be covered under insurance, they dig in and find answers.
The person you want knows how to be resourceful. If something confuses them, they know how to find out what to do. They are not the kind of person to put off tasks and expect things to just work out anyway.
Above all, you do not want to choose the kind of person who would just do the taxes with ignorance and not care if the data is correct or not. Someone like this could accidentally lose the estate money or even be held personally liable for any mistakes and later be sued for their bad judgment.
Healthy & Younger
If you have older siblings or friends, they are not the best choice for an executor. It is better to have someone your age or younger who has time on their hands. You could even choose someone who knows that they can make time to act as executor when the time comes.
Always name someone else as a successor executor in case your first choice declines. Ill health, new children, a new or demanding job, going back to college, or taking care of an ailing relative are examples of reasons someone might decline the position.
Diplomatic & Tactful
If your executor is someone who stirs the pot or enjoys riling others up, your estate could take a long time to be settled. You want someone who is even-tempered and willing to negotiate and give a little when things don’t go as expected. Courts can have unreasonable demands, beneficiaries may argue over their desires, funeral homes may charge more than what is reasonable, a financial consultant may have loud opinions.
The executor needs to be the rock in all of this. A person who can withstand a bit of fussing and help to calm it all, who firmly negotiates with service providers who may try to pull a fast one, who listens to the adult children of the deceased but then gently lets them know what has to happen next: these are the qualities best suited for an executor of an estate.
In North Carolina, the clerk of superior court requires many personal representatives to be bonded before acting on probate. When you name an executor in your will, you can require a bond be placed on them but it is not required.
However, it is important that you can trust this person. Many types of fraud are committed in the role of executor and it can be easy for an unethical person to make more profit than they should from your estate. You need someone who will care for your wishes and execute the affairs of your estate with precision and a fastidious zeal for what needs to happen.
Someone who has prior felonies or a string of affairs in multiple marriages is showing a level of untrustworthiness. You must be able to trust this person to deal fairly, even when no one is watching. “Just say no” if they are the kind of person who feels like they’ve done no wrong until they’ve been caught.
Love is Not the Answer
Loving someone and wanting them to settle your estate are 2 very different things. Often parents want to name a child as executor. However there are people who are not suited to this task. It can be like a full time job if the estate is complicated and there is much to do.
They are probably not the best choice if they:
- Are not very good with money. If someone is in debt or had a bankruptcy recently, this could be a sign that working with money could be a problem for them.
- Struggle with working too much already. This person is already overwhelmed with too much to do and will not have time to give attention to your estate.
- Are continually sick. This person will be too exhausted to care about settling an estate.
- Are overwhelmed with small children. Busy Moms don’t generally have the extra energy to tackle closing an estate
- Are on drugs or living a high risk lifestyle. You most likely cannot trust someone who is not caring for themselves to care about settling an estate forthrightly.
- Are sloppy or unmotivated in general. This is someone who is deeply unorganized and not interested in to-do lists or getting the things done.
You can always leave cherished items and letters to show your love. An executor position requires a certain type of commitment of time and energy along with the skills necessary.
Often parents want to name all of their children as co-executors, or name a representative from a first spouse/family and one from the next spouse/family. If relationships are already complicated, this can cause further problems. You don’t want to create more drama during a time when emotions will already be running high.
Another reason to avoid naming co executors is that every document and everything that is done for the estate goes through probate court and multiple signatures are required on absolutely everything. If you name co executors, they each have to sign off on everything. This can considerably slow down the probate process.
Name an executor and a successor for the best results. If you know that the entire probate process will be emotionally draining for some family members, name someone else. Especially do not put one person in charge who may lord it over the others and cause unnecessary waiting and additional pain to those they do not like.
Thinking through your estate plan and will can be complicated and uncomfortable, but there is always help. If you have questions or concerns about your will or any part of your estate plan, contact an knowledgeable estate planning attorney who can use past experience to help you find the right path for your situation. Making these types of decisions now will pay off for you and your family and friends in the future.