Let’s say that your close family member or friend passed away and
you were surprised to learn that he or she named you as the executor of
their will. You may be honored to take on the job, or you may feel that
you simply don’t have the time or the energy to accept. You may
think that despite how you feel, you don’t have a choice –
but you do.
Even if you had a close relationship with the deceased, you can still politely
pass on the opportunity so someone else can take care of it. If you truly
are the best man or woman for the job in the decedent’s family or
circle of friends, there are ways to ease the burden.
Who can serve as an executor?
Each state has enacted laws that say who can serve as an executor or a
personal representative for an estate that’s in probate. Generally,
anybody can serve as an executor so long as they have not been convicted
of a felony, but if the executor is out-of-state, there may be stricter
Not everyone is suited for the role of an executor. The most-qualified
personal representatives are meticulous, patient, well-organized, impartial,
and of an exceptional moral character. Executors are held to the highest
standards of “fiduciary duty” and must not engage in any self-dealing.
Since executors must deal with the beneficiaries directly, it helps when
they have pleasant personalities and know how to get along with other
people. They need to have plenty of time on their hands too. If the executor
is a homemaker, retired, or only works part-time, that’s good since
settling an estate takes many hours over a period of six to twelve months.
Do you have to be good at math or a financial wizard to be an executor?
No, not necessarily. Probate courts across the country encourage personal
representatives to seek help with the financial and legal matters (probate
attorneys, tax preparers, and accountants). The fees for these services
are paid out of the estate, not out of the executor’s pocket.
Can I hire an attorney to do all the work for me?
Some executors don’t have a lot of free time on their hands or they
prefer to trust a professional to handle everything for them. In these
cases, some executors turn everything over to a probate lawyer. Often
with simpler estates, an executor may handle the routine tasks, while
consulting the experts on more complex matters.
If you’ve been asked to be an executor, the complexity of the estate
should dictate what you do next. If you’re unfamiliar with the decedent’s
affairs, and are not sure where to start, you should seek advice from
a professional probate attorney.