Being asked to serve as an executor of someone’s estate may be considered a great honor. After all, the testator (person who wrote the will) has entrusted you above anyone else to ensure that his/her final wishes are fulfilled and his/her worldly possessions are distributed to the ones he/she loves.
When presented with such a request, it is only natural to want to say yes. However, being an executor is a big responsibility, and it is not a decision to be taken lightly. There is a lot more required of the position than simply reading the will and dividing the money accordingly. It is in your best interest to understand the full scope of your duties as an executor before agreeing to the task.
What is an Executor?
An executor is the person responsible for settling the final details of a deceased person’s estate. This includes notifying Social Security and other agencies of the death, paying valid creditors, paying taxes, cancelling recurring services and subscriptions, disposing of real property, distributing assets, and making court appearances should the need arise.
If an executor is not named in the deceased person’s will, one will be appointed by the court. There can be more than one executor, and the executor does not have to be related to the deceased. It can be a friend or a professional such as lawyer or an accountant.
The Advantages of Being an Executor
Let’s start out by saying that nothing about being an executor is particularly enjoyable. While dealing with the painful emotions from the loss of your loved one, you have to take on an extra set of administrative tasks and responsibilities. Though the task is a lot for anyone to bear, being an executor can come with some advantages.
First, you get to be in control and have full accounting of the entire process. There is peace of mind in fulfilling your duty and making sure everything goes to plan.
Second, you are entitled to be compensated for your duty. In many cases, the executor fee is something that the testator outlines in the will. If not, the court may allow the executor to be compensated according to state statute.
This fee is often refused by executors, as they just want to fulfill their honorable duty. Sometimes however, the expenses can turn out to be more than you might expect.
You might need to hire lawyers, buy plane tickets, appear in court, and a variety of other things. The last thing most people want to do when they die is to cause a burden for others. Being reimbursed for your expenses does not mean you are profiting from your loved one’s death.
The Drawbacks of Being an Executor
Being an executor can be very time consuming, depending on the complexity of the estate. There can be seemingly endless phone calls to make, trips to the courthouse, and documents to mail. You have to gather information from banks, life insurance companies, investment companies, and any other agency involved in the financial assets of the deceased.
Perhaps the most daunting task you may encounter is when you have to sort the contents of the deceased person’s home so these assets can be distributed to heirs or appraised and sold. Sometimes there is bickering and resentment among family members. Relationships can be irreparably damaged in the process of arguing over fair distribution. Of course, since you are the one in charge, you’re the one that takes brunt of the blame.
Before the arguing can begin, there’s the challenge of locating family members. Gone are the days when everyone lives in the same town. These days families are often spread all over the country, and not everyone chooses to stay in touch. Fortunately, the widespread adoption of social media has made it easier to track people down, but there is still some detective work to be done.
Potential Executor Liabilities
Beyond all the potential inconveniences that can come with the being an executor, you can also face the risk of being sued. An executor has a fiduciary relationship to the decedent, meaning you have an obligation to act in the best interest of the estate and demonstrate the care and skill that an ordinary person would be expected to demonstrate.
If a beneficiary can prove that you breached your fiduciary duty to the decedent or were negligent, he/she may be able to claim monetary damages and receive compensation for any benefit he/she may have been denied due to your breach.
Executors are protected from being held liable for any of the estate’s liabilities. You can only be held liable for damages that resulted from your negligence or breach of duty. An executor may hire an attorney to assist him/her with probate.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult, and executors can face many challenges when trying to administer an estate. How burdensome the process is can depend greatly on how well prepared the decedent was. An unprepared person with a small net worth can still leave behind a big mess. Conversely, a thoroughly prepared person with a large and complex estate can make their executor’s job very easy.
If you need assistance with probate or experienced estate planning lawyers in Cary or the greater Wake county area, contact Alexander & Doyle, PA today. Call us at 919-380-1001, or fill out the form below.