So, you just had a talk with an elderly relative and discovered that he wants you to act as the executor of his will. Of course, your natural first reaction is probably some combination of surprise and self-satisfaction – surprise that you were selected, and self-satisfaction derived from knowing that you have an opportunity to help him with this important task. Still, there is much to consider before you jump headlong into the great unknown and agree to take on the role. First, you need to ask yourself one important question: are you ready to serve as the executor of a will?
That might sound like a silly question, but it’ actually more important than most people ever realize. The fact is that not everyone is cut out to fulfill that executor role. After all, it’s a lot more than just opening the will and reading its provisions to the beneficiaries – and then handing out little boxes with special messages and mysterious keys hidden inside them. That only happens in the movies. In the real world, the role of the executor is both tedious and complex, and often filled with angst and frustration. And it takes a certain kind of mindset to fulfill its duties.
Can You Handle the Tasks?
As noted above, the executor’s job is not simple. It involves doing everything that needs to be done to formally settle an estate. It begins with a formal request for recognition and appointment from the court, and then entails a whole host of tasks that must be performed to ensure that the estate is settled in accordance with existing law. Those tasks include:
- Identifying the decedent’s assets wherever they might be, taking control of them, and ensuring that they are safeguarded against loss.
- Cataloging and appraising all those assets so that an assessment of the estate’s total value can be made.
- Formal notification of known creditors and publication of notice to potential creditors so that they have an opportunity to present claims against the estate.
- Evaluation of creditor claims and prompt payment of valid debts.
- Calculation of taxes owed by the decedent and filing of his last tax returns. If estate taxes are due, those need to be dealt with as well.
- Final accounting of activities. This accounting must be presented to the probate court, along with a request to distribute any remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. Once this is done, the will can be formally closed.
Can You Handle the Pressure?
Even a cursory review of those tasks should demonstrate that this is a pressure-filled job with a tremendous potential for confusion and conflict. Often, heirs will be eager to know how the estate settlement process is proceeding. Creditors may be persistent – and some may need to have their claims challenged. The decedent’s records may not be as orderly as you would prefer, creating even more complications as you try to sort through everything. Moreover, there can be many complicated instructions contained within the will, and you must know your own capabilities to recognize when you need outside help.
Will You Know When You Need Help?
If you listen to some experts, they’ll tell you that you shouldn’t ever choose to be an executor unless you have at least some legal and financial abilities. That’s because there are so many different aspects of the executor role that require some legal knowledge or an ability to handle things like accounting, appraising, and tax return preparation. If there are assets that can earn income, you’ll also have a duty to invest them wisely to ensure that they receive the type of return they would have enjoyed while the decedent was alive. Those things all require certain specialized knowledge.
Still, a lack of specialized talent in those areas doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot fulfill the executor job. After all, the most important role that the executor has is as a facilitator of the probate process and protector of the estate. If your commitment to upholding your fiduciary duty is solid and you are smart enough to know your own strengths and weaknesses, then there is no real reason that you cannot serve in that capacity. If that is the case, however, you need to be willing to seek the right kind of help when it is needed:
- Accounting. You need to maintain accurate records of your activities, including all financial transactions for the estate. If that’s not a strong suit for you, then you should retain an accountant for the probate process.
- Appraising. You need accurate valuations of all assets. Some may be easy to assess on your own, but artwork collections and many other assets may require a professional appraisal.
- Investment advice. When assets need to be invested to fulfill your fiduciary duty, you should seek sound counsel from someone with investment experience.
- Legal assistance. Probate is a legal process. One of your first actions as an executor should be to retain a competent probate attorney to help guide and protect you throughout the proceedings.
- Tax professionals. That final income tax and possible estate tax filing may be beyond your abilities. Have the filings prepared by a tax preparation specialist to avoid any potential errors.
Keep in mind that these professionals are all hired and paid for by the estate, so you should never hesitate to get the help you need to ensure that your job is done properly. With reliance on the right professional assistance, any committed and ethical person can successfully fulfill the executor role.
Contact Us for the Help You Need
At the Fouts Law Group, LLC, our probate experts can help you to make sense of the complex estate administration process and figure out what sort of help you might need to ensure that your executor duties are properly performed. Being named as an executor of a will is indeed one of the highest honors any loved one can offer, but that doesn’t mean that you should handle those responsibilities on your own. To find out how we can assist with your executor duties and ensure that you avoid unnecessary risks as you manage the probate process, contact us online or give us a call at (404) 596-7520.
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