It’s both a great honor and a serious responsibility to be named as the executor of a loved one’s estate. Most of the time, someone who is considering naming you as their executor will ask you in advance if you would be willing to serve. It’s also possible that you could be named as executor in a will and only find out after the person who made it (also known as the testator) dies. If there is no will, but you are a close relative, there’s a chance you might be asked to serve as an executor by the probate court. When should you agree to serve as executor of an estate?
In any of these situations, even if you’ve previously assured the testator of your willingness to serve, you are not legally bound to accept the position of executor. You may be intimidated by the duties involved, such as gathering and securing the deceased’s assets, filing documents with the probate court, and paying creditors and taxes. Or you may be overwhelmed by the prospect of how much time the probate process will take.
If you are faced with the decision of whether or not to accept the role of executor, there are some things that should give you pause—and others that might not be as big an impediment as you think.
Reasons Not to Serve as Executor of an Estate
There are two primary reasons not to serve as executor of an estate: first, that you would be unable to properly carry out your obligations to the estate and heirs, and second, that serving as executor would be too much of a burden for you.
Serving as an executor can be a time-consuming process. If you are already stretched to the limit with obligations to work, family, and other commitments, you may feel that not only will you be unable to do a good job, but taking on this added responsibility would put your stress level on overload. That’s a perfectly valid reason to decline.
However, if you’re otherwise inclined to serve, you should know a few things before you decline. You are entitled to the representation of a probate attorney if you serve as executor. This representation is considered a benefit to the estate, so it is paid out of estate funds, not your pocket. Still more important, an experienced probate attorney can explain your duties as executor so that you can better evaluate whether you’ll be able to carry them out. If you decide to accept the role of executor, the attorney can help you complete (and in some cases can complete on your behalf) documents that need to be filed, tax returns, and notices to heirs and creditors.
You may find that, with the attorney’s support, you can carry out an executor’s duties. It’s up to you to determine whether the job would impose too great a burden on you. Things you may want to consider are whether the probate court handling the file is local or would require significant travel, how large and complex the estate is, and whether is likely to be a will contest or a dispute between heirs requiring probate litigation.
Deciding Whether You Are Qualified to Serve as Executor
Speaking with a probate attorney will help you decide whether you have the qualifications to serve as the executor of your loved one’s estate. Although it is a great responsibility, you don’t have to have a legal or financial background or be highly educated to successfully administer someone’s estate. Serving as executor from out of state isn’t even a deal breaker if you have a good attorney locally.
The primary qualifications are a willingness to protect and properly distribute the estate assets, and the ability to devote the time needed to complete the administration of the estate. Ultimately, a decision about whether you should agree to serve as an executor should follow a candid consultation between you and an experienced probate attorney who serves the county in which the probate case will need to be opened. We invite you to contact our law office if you need to discuss whether you should agree to serve as an executor.