Often when considering who to ask to be the executor of our estates we default to good friends and close family members. But is this the best choice? Being chosen to act as the executor can be both an honour and an obligation, and many of us will accept this request without a full understanding of what is actually involved.
The executor is a person appointed in a will to administer an estate. As the executor of an estate you are legally responsible for sorting out the finance of the person who died, generally speaking the executor collects the assets of the deceased, pays their debts, and distributes the balance, if any, of the estate according to the directions in the will.
When acting as the executor you owe a duty of care to all persons interested in the estate. Depending on the complexity of the estate this can be relatively easy or extremely complicated taking years to execute fully. Below are some of the duties and responsibilities of an executor.
• Locate and read the will and any Codicils.
• Meet with next-of-kin to review funeral arrangements and determine where vital documents, such as insurance policies are.
• Notify all financial institutions, credit card companies, and government agencies of the decedent’s death.
• Set up an estate account for any incoming funds and to pay any bills.
• Determine if probate is required.
• Prepare a complete inventory of estate assets and liabilities, including contents of the safe deposit box.
• Locate all of the estate’s assets and ensure that they are properly protected and insured. You may need to file a detailed inventory of the assets for probate.
• Pay the estate’s debts and taxes
• Distribute assets.
This is therefore not something that should be entered into lightly. Before saying yes, consider the following:
• Relationship/Objectivity – The loss of a loved one is exceptionally difficult. Emotions are high as heirs deal with their grief and the executor must be able to deal with difficult issues in a way that preserves harmony among all concerned.
• Competency – to act as an executor, it is best if you have some familiarity with basic financial concepts. Some basic knowledge in the areas of tax filing, law, and accounting is definitely helpful.
• Availability – being an executor can be very time consuming especially at the beginning.
I was once told by a legal professional, ‘whenever someone asks me if they should accept an appointment as an executor I tell them to turn and run screaming from the room’. However the reality is that this is a job that needs to get done, and we want someone we can trust to help our families during this difficult time. I recommend that you approach the person you would like to execute your will in advance of finalizing your Will, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Ensure that you allow them the room to say no if they don’t feel that they have the capacity whether, emotionally or otherwise, to fulfil this critical role.
You can make the life of your executor easier by ensuring that you have a current and up to date will, and that the executor knows where it is. Keeping your will in your sock drawer may save on bank fees but it will make life much more difficult for everyone else.