How to Choose an Executor


This article is from one of our recent newsletters.  Although it refers only to executors, most of the considerations also apply to trustees.  North Carolina no longer requires that an executor be a resident of the state. For those interested in receiving TrustCounsel’s newsletter, visit our website to sign up.

Your executor is responsible for handling the final details of your estate, such as paying off debts and distributing whatever is left to the rightful heirs and beneficiaries. It can be a difficult job if the person doesn’t have the skills necessary to handle it.

In general, an estate is responsible for paying the executor a fee. The amount can be specified in the will or it may be determined by state law. The fee can be waived or the executor can accept a smaller amount. Expenses incurred by the executor in settling the estate are generally reimbursed out of the proceeds. 

Here are answers to some of the commonly asked questions that you may have about choosing an executor.

Q.  What qualities and abilities should an executor have?

A.  When you write a will with the help of your attorney, it’s important to choose a competent and trustworthy executor and alternate executors. Otherwise, even careful estate planning could be rendered useless. The executor can be any person or institution that you desire. However, an executor should be:

 Experienced and competent in business matters.
 Familiar with your business, finances and property.
 Familiar with your family situation, including children, step children and former spouses.
 Willing to act as your executor.
 Able to spend the time necessary to perform the duties.
 Willing to work with the estate’s attorney and accountant.
 Capable of providing for the continuation of your business.

Q.  What are the executor’s responsibilities?

A. A will names an executor who has the power to petition the court to probate a will. An executor is the “personal representative” and fiduciary of the decedent and as such must administer the estate. The executor must ensure that the will is carried out. In general, the executor must: 

 Handle funeral arrangements and pay for the funeral.
 Pay any outstanding bills of the estate.
 Collect and preserve assets.
 Pay debts, taxes and administration expenses of the estate.
 Distribute estate assets according to the terms of the will.

Q.  Should a family member be named as executor?

A.  Not necessarily. Often, each spouse names the other as executor and a child who lives nearby as the alternate executor. But the survivor may be unable to properly handle this important and technical task. If the estate administration is expected to be complicated or there is family disharmony, an accountant, attorney or bank trust department can be named as executor. The surviving spouse can receive reports from the executor and be kept advised of all the activities in the estate-settlement process without having to become involved with the details of carrying out the various tasks. Nonetheless, many people still prefer to use family members as the executor of their estates.

Q.  Who can be an executor?

A.  In most states, any U.S. citizen over the age of majority, who has not been convicted of a felony, can be named executor. However, some states also require an executor to be a resident of the state. 

Some people choose a lawyer, accountant or financial consultant because of the person’s expertise. Others appoint a spouse, adult child, relative or friend, especially if the estate is small. Because of the many responsibilities involved, it is prudent to ask the person and any alternate executors if they are willing to serve before naming them in your will.

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