Answers to Your Questions About Picking an Executor

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.

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

Question: What qualities and abilities should an executor have?

Answer: When you write a will 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.

Question: What are the responsibilities of the executor?

Answer: 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.

Question: Should a family member be named as executor?

Answer: 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, a professional adviser such as 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.

Question: Who can be an executor?

Answer: 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.

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