The Executor Decision

Recently, someone I care about named me as an executor on their will. This is something of a new experience for me, so I naturally spent some time reading up on what’s required of an executor in that state as well as trying to understand what exactly they wanted to happen with their assets (which aren’t tremendous).

What does an executor do? What typically happens is that, when you’re named as an executor on a will, you’re put in charge of handling the business of the estate when that person dies. The will is submitted in probate court, the judge checks who the executor is, and then the judge signs an Executor Letter of Appointment which allows the executor to execute any and all business that needs to be done by the estate. This is usually quick and is done pretty quickly after the passing of the person involved.

An executor’s job is threefold: you have to secure the assets of the deceased (mostly, just make sure you know where the valuable items are and that they’re secure), determine who the legal heirs are, and pay any outstanding debts of the deceased. The second part of that – determining who the legal heirs are and what they’re entitled to – is the part that can be tricky, and it’s the part for which you may want to have a lawyer of your own.

There’s also the matter of an executor’s fee, which is an amount that’s paid to the executor out of the estate for the work they’re doing. This amount is usually set by the judge and is heavily guided by statute (usually ending up somewhere near 3% of the estate). The executor can waive this if they wish.

This left me with a few concerns.

First, it’s good for both the person and their executor to have a clearly-stated will. This is why it’s often good to have a lawyer involved in the writing of the will. You want as little ambiguity as possible, because greedy people will root out that ambiguity and possibly pursue legal action to manipulate that ambiguity to their favor. One method is to explicitly name people in the will. Another method is to proportionately share the estate among a certain closed set of people, such as your children.

Second, the person and the executor need to trust each other and the person knows that the executor is reliable. An executor who really does not have the best interests of the deceased in mind often has at least some power to manipulate the estate.

I am quite sure the person who wished me to be executor trusts me – in fact, that’s the primary reason this person chose me to be executor, according to their own words.

It’s the flip side of this coin that is on my mind. Who will I choose as my executor? Obviously, my wife handles it in a situation where just one of us passes, but our will is a joint one. Who should be that executor?

It must be someone I trust and someone that I can rely on. I’ve been working on such a list for a while and weeding people off of it for various reasons. (We do have a “temporary” executor in place, but we’d like to eventually have someone else for age-related reasons.)

For me, such decisions aren’t easy ones. If Sarah and I were to pass on at the same time, I’d want someone to handle our estate with the best interests of our children in mind.

Why does this concern me so much? I’ve witnessed disastrous situations resulting from unclear wills and greedy executors and heirs, both from readers and in my own life. A very clear will and a strong executor can go a long way toward heading off such issues. Again, a big reason why I care so much about this is because I have young children who will rely to some degree on what’s stated in that document and how the executor behaves.

It’s one of those decisions that I must get right.