Definition of the Executor of a Will

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The executor of a will is someone who takes care of the personal and financial business of the deceased. Also called the personal representative, the executor doesn't necessarily need any special knowledge of finance or the law. The job is primarily a position of trust and duty.

Choosing Executors

General Qualifications

The main qualifications for an executor are integrity, fairness and a willingness to do the job. The executor must also be organized and able to deal with a lot of paperwork.

Tip

  • A relative, such as a spouse or grown child, is a popular choice for executor. An accountant or lawyer may be a wise choice for large estate, suggests the American Bar Association.

State Limitations

State laws restrict who can serve as executor of a will. Typically, an executor must be a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years of age without a felony record, according to Find Law. Some states put additional requirements on executors who live in another state, such as requiring them to be primary beneficiaries.

Additional Executors

Co-Executors

Some people name more than one person as co-executors of their will. This might happen with two of their adult children, for example. Having multiple executors can create difficulties and delays in some cases because all co-executors must agree on every decision, according to NOLO,

In other cases, multiple executors might smooth the process of winding up an estate. For example, you could choose your spouse to handle your personal affairs and a business partner to handle your small business. In any case, your co-executors must be able to work together.

Contingent Executor

In addition to a primary executor, you should also name a contingent executor in your will, the American Bar Association recommends. The contingent executor, also called an alternate executor, takes over if your primary executor can't serve or isn't willing.

Warning

  • If you don't appoint a contingent executor, the court will make the appointment if the need arises.

Duties of an Executor

The range of duties of the executor largely depends on the size and type of estate. According to NOLO, the major duties include:

  • Finding the will and filing it in court. Depending on state law and the size of the estate, the decision whether or not to pursue formal probate proceedings may lie with the executor.

  • Reading the will to find out who inherits what property.

  • Taking care of everyday business such as closing bank accounts and notifying businesses and government agencies such as credit card companies and the Social Security Administration.
  • Establishing a bank account for the estate to receive money due to the deceased, such as investment dividends.
  • Paying bills, taxes and other debts from the estate. The executor must inform creditors if there will be a court probate proceeding.
  • Taking care of the deceased's property and distributing it to the heirs. This may include maintaining real estate and selling property or investments, such as stocks.

An executor doesn't necessarily need to hire a lawyer, even for probate, according to Find Law. For major tax problems or difficult property decisions, however, the executor can consult with attorneys or accountants.

Advantages of Serving

An executor is often a close friend or family member of the deceased. As such, the executor can take comfort in helping to carry out the final wishes of the loved one, including distributing her possessions and paying all outstanding bills.

The executor has the right to be paid for the time and effort it takes to serve. The amount must be in accordance with the law of each state and sometimes depends on the size of the estate.

Tip

  • Relatives or close friends who serve as executors and are also beneficiaries of the estate often decline payment, according to NOLO.

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