Can a Mentally Incompetent Person Be an Estate Executor in Title Only?

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The estate executor must ensure property is maintained.
The estate executor must ensure property is maintained. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Serving as an executor is a big responsibility, as the executor controls the estate finances for the benefit of all beneficiaries and creditors. The executor must be competent to make complex financial decisions. She cannot be an executor "in title only." Appointing someone as executor -- even "in title only," were such a thing possible -- would serve no purpose if the person couldn't fulfill the necessary duties.

Qualities

Choosing the right person helps to ensure an estate is properly administered. Thus, when people create their wills, they often appoint someone experienced with legal and financial matters, like a lawyer or accountant. They may also appoint a close relative or friend who will seek the appropriate legal council to judiciously administer the estate. An estate executor must be intelligent, trustworthy and reliable, which implies being mentally stable. No matter how trustworthy a mentally challenged or mentally unstable person is, he should not be made the executor, as this would only burden him with responsibilities he couldn't fulfill.

Duties

The executor must be competent to understand and fulfill a lengthy list of responsibilities that include conducting an inventory of estate assets, paying debts owed, collecting money and property others owe the estate holder, maintaining careful records, filing tax returns and keeping beneficiaries informed about her actions. She must manage the money, consolidating bank accounts and making investments without engaging in risky ventures. In so doing, she must carefully follow the will, if a will exists. The executor should strive to remain fair to all beneficiaries and refrain from purchasing a stake in the property, as this could bias her decisions. In return for fulfilling these duties, executors sometimes receive a set payment determined by the will or state law.

Risks

Beneficiaries and creditors watch the executor's actions because they stand to profit or lose money from the estate. If an executor is found to be mentally incompetent or cannot perform the duties of executor for any reason, the title can be transferred to another person. Beneficiaries or creditors can challenge an executor's actions by taking him to court. The court can hold the executor accountable for financial losses and appoint a new executor. Putting a mentally incompetent person in charge of an estate thus puts him in serious risk of financial difficulties.

Laws

Consulting an attorney will aid in setting up an estate and designating an executor and beneficiaries. State laws about estates vary, and a local attorney will understand all the particulars. If the estate owner has not appointed an executor in the will, or no will exists, the court will appoint an executor.

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