How to Be a Will’s Executor
Submitted by Larry Frank Sr. on Mon, 10/28/2013 - 3:00pm
Congratulations or condolences: You are executor of a will. Emotions
aside, the weight of the duty depends on both you and the now-deceased
person who appointed you. Here’s what to know.
Wills legally declare how a person wants property and other assets
distributed after death; wills sometimes also recommend a guardian for
surviving children. An executor, usually appointed by the deceased or
sometimes by a court, administrates the estate to carry out the
instructions and wishes of the deceased.
No small obligation. Do you have the time, skills, patience, knowledge,
temperament and money to perform executor duties according to your
state’s guidelines? For one, you carry a legal fiduciary responsibility and
must account for the estate meeting all its bills.
Your executor duties begin with obtaining the death certificate (sometimes
even online); finding the actual will or trust; engaging such professionals
as attorneys, accountants or appraisers (sometimes naming them coexecutors); obtaining documentation verifying you as executor; locating
assets; and paying off bills and taxes.
Before you even accept executorship, consider these tips from the
American Association of Retired Persons:
Expertise helps, but common sense and care count, too. Executors
aren’t all Wall Street whizzes.
Consider your own health and life expectancy before saying yes.
Point out the advantages and disadvantages of corporate executors
such as banks or financial services firms.
Point out family tensions before naming of co-executors or trustees.
Keep in touch with who picked you. Your life may change
tomorrow in a way that suddenly makes you a bad choice for executor.
Your duty comes easier if the deceased was organized, especially
regarding property records. Do their records point you to one or more
financial institutions? Good if they do: If you miss records, the state
claims the property under escheatment laws, which means any rightful
heirs miss out because they can’t prove ownership.
Information on one’s last tax returns helps ferret out property and income
sources, such as investments and retirement assets. Also:
Have the decedent’s mail forwarded to you to easily secure
documents related to their assets, debts and former bills. Remember that
many people now receive property and billing statements electronically
and not all email providers allow you access for executor purposes.
See if the decedent listed down any passwords, user names or
personal identification numbers. This information also helps deal with
online subscriptions and tax-preparation software and with cellphone
Ask the bank if the decedent kept a safe-deposit box.
Get the idea? You need to play detective unless the deceased kept good
records both on paper and in electronic format.
CNNMoney offers these tidbits:
Should the will go through probate, a process of legal validation,
distributing assets might take half a year or more.
Not all families go for each other’s throats over the casket. Other
friends and family members named in the will may want to help you.
Prepare to ruffle some family members’ feathers. Many wills leave
gray areas that you must settle.
Keep family and others informed, heading off frustration and anger
later. For example, don’t sell dad’s house without running it by your
Next to parenthood, executorship ranks as one of the most important
responsibilities you may ever take on. Once you agree, take the
responsibility seriously and take it easy on yourself when you can.
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Larry R. Frank Sr., CFP, is a Registered Investment Adviser (California)
in Roseville, Calif. He is the author of the book, Wealth Odyssey. He has
an MBA with a finance concentration and B.S. cum laude in physics with
which he views the world of money dynamically. He has peer-reviewed
research published in the Journal of Financial Planning.
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Trusts and Estates