A Will executor refers to a person responsible for settling a decedent’s estate. This individual can be a spouse, relative, friend, probate lawyer, or estate planning professional. Careful consideration should be given as this person is required to act as the estate fiduciary and may need to become a mediator if family discord exists.
The term ‘Will executor’ is interchangeable with other titles including: estate administrator, estate executor, personal representative, and estate agent. Regardless of the title, the person in charge is responsible for multiple duties that often require help from a probate attorney.
Individuals charged with estate settlement duties are compensated for their efforts. Compensation is governed under state probate law and can be paid as a percentage of appraised estate value; flat fee; or hourly wage.
The type of settlement procedures depend on the type of inheritance property and estate planning procedures taken prior to death. Probate commences once the decedent’s last will or death certificate is filed through court.
Will executors are appointed within the last will. If a person dies without a Will a personal representative is appointed through court. At minimum, estate settlement duties encompass securing owned assets; obtaining appraisals for valuable property; contacting creditors and paying outstanding debts; and managing distribution of inheritance gifts to named beneficiaries.
When inheritance property is protected by a trust it is exempt from the probate process. Will executor duties are typically not as robust as settling probated estates. Assets can be distributed to rightful heirs within a short period of time and estates settled within a month or two.
With probate, property cannot be distributed until all other facets of estate settlement are completed. When decedents have insufficient funds to pay outstanding debts the will executor may have to hire a lawyer to enter into creditor negotiations. It is not uncommon for the presiding judge to order assets sold to pay off debts. This is often the case when real estate is secured by a mortgage loan.
It is strongly recommended to talk to the person chosen as a personal representative before naming them within the Will. Overseeing estate settlement can be a time-consuming and emotional task.
The person you feel is most appropriate for the job may be unwilling to assume the duties. Designated executors can request to be dismissed from duties. When this occurs, probate is prolonged until a new personal representative is chosen and confirmed through the court.
Probate law dictates that will executors are at least 18 years old and never convicted of a felony crime. It is best to select someone who is capable of working under stress; able to make smart decisions under pressure; detail-oriented; and good with finances.
Unfortunately, death sometimes brings out the worst in people. If family discord existed prior to death it is often amplified during probate. It is not uncommon for family feuds to erupt over a family heirloom or cherished piece of art or jewelry. If disputes escalate the will executor may need to hire a lawyer to act as a mediator to prevent heirs from contesting the Will and further prolong estate settlement.
Engaging in estate planning can minimize family disputes and expedite the probate process. Individuals who believe problems will present can appoint a lawyer or estate planner as the will executor. This action can minimize the risk of having the Will contested.
About the Author
Choosing an appropriate will executor is one element of estate planning. Author and investor, Simon Volkov shares additional insights and tips for implementing estate planning strategies to avoid probate and minimize potential for family disputes at www.SimonVolkov.com.