One of the more important decisions you must make when writing your will is the selection of an executor. The executor is responsible for administering your will and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Ideally, an executor should combine the tact of a diplomat with the administrative skills of an executive.
If you die without a will (intestate), the court will appoint an administrator to perform the executor’s duties. When no relative or beneficiary is able to take the job, the appointee could be a civil servant or even a creditor.
Almost any person you trust can be your executor. For most people, the best choice is a spouse or a child. Large estates may require two executors — a personal representative to interpret your wishes and a professional representative or institution, such as a bank, to make business or financial management decisions, pay taxes and keep records. The person should also be close enough to you and your family to do as you would wish, yet be able to act without being swayed by emotions if conflict arises between family members.
An executor’s job is to “wrap up” your financial affairs. The executor must identify and determine the value of the assets that are part of your estate. It may be necessary to liquidate assets or sell real estate in order to carry out your wishes. During this time, the executor may have to pay ongoing bills (such as mortgage payments or utilities) in order to preserve the assets. An executor is also responsible for paying all your remaining debts, filing your final personal tax returns and distributing whatever remains to your heirs. Throughout this process, careful records must be kept. Most probate courts will demand a full and detailed accounting of all money received, spent or held by your estate. Throughout the process, the executor must keep the heirs and family members informed of the status of the estate.
When choosing an executor, objectivity is essential in order to make the proper decision. Be sure whomever you select is willing to accept the responsibility. In addition, it is also wise to choose an alternate executor to serve in the event your initial executor is unable to do so. If you have not yet selected your executor, consider choosing one now to eliminate any potential complications in the event of an untimely death.
Information provided by Ross Barnett, attorney for Abendroth and Russell Law Firm, 2560 73rd St., Urbandale, 278-0623, www.ARPCLaw.com.