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What qualities should I look for when choosing my executor?

Choosing your executor (personal representative) is an important part of the estate planning process. After all, this is the individual who will be taking care of all the logistical matters surrounding your will and seeing to it that your final wishes are carried out. At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we assist clients throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod in planning their estates, helping them to choose appropriate executors, and sometimes acting as their personal representatives ourselves.

All that careful work you’ve done with your estate planning attorney means little if not executed properly. In this blog, we’ll take a look at what your executor will be tasked with accomplishing and what qualities he or she should have to be well-suited to the job.

Duties Performed by Your Executor

How time-consuming and complex these duties will be is largely determined by the size of your estate and how complicated your assets are (i.e. whether you have a high-net-worth estate and whether you own various sizable properties, businesses, or collections of cars, antiques, etc.) Your personal representative will be legally responsible for:

  • Filing a copy of your will with the local probate court
  • Notifying all relevant financial entities of your death: banks, credit card companies, the Social Security Administration and any other necessary government agencies 
  • Determining whether probate is necessary since certain trusts and jointly held property may be allowed to pass through an expedited process
  • Representing your estate in court if such representation becomes necessary
  • Create a bank account to receive incoming funds and pay final bills
  • Filing an inventory of your assets with the court
  • Maintaining estate property until it can be distributed or sold
  • Paying estate taxes that are due (including estate taxes for high-net-worth estates) and any other outstanding debts
  • Distributing assets to heirs and/or beneficiaries (this can only be done after all taxes and other debts have been paid)

If you already have a competent estate planning attorney, your executor will usually be well-served by using that individual throughout the process. 

Problems Your Executor May Face

In many cases, the executor’s job may be simple and straightforward, but situations can arise that make it more difficult to complete the necessary tasks. If you run into any of the following problems, you will be grateful to have a capable estate planning attorney at  your side:

  1. Impatient or recalcitrant heirs or beneficiaries who don’t understand why they cannot have their inheritance immediately or why they can’t take cherished possessions from the deceased’s home until it is determined whether the deceased has left those possessions to them rather than others. The estate attorney will likely recommend that a vacant house be secured until it is time for distribution of the deceased’s property.
  1. Being an executor is much more time-consuming than expected. Settling an estate can take a year or more, so your personal representative may be obligated to make a significant time investment in this project. This is more likely to occur if your estate is large with many properties. Your executor may find that she or he is spending too much time away from work or loved ones and be delighted to find that the estate attorney can take over such matters as dealing with the Social Security Administration and filing legal documents. 
  1. Being an executor means being accountable for your actions and may involve personal liability. Though you will no doubt choose someone trustworthy to be your executor, that individual will be held liable for oversights and other mistakes. Here again, having a skilled estate attorney to guide your executor can mean the difference between smooth sailing and rough seas. A sharp lawyer will make sure that a lawsuit that might eat up a big chunk of the estate is avoided. 

Our estate attorneys will help your executor make sure not to distribute your assets until every tax payment is made and every creditor is paid. We will also be on hand to make sure that all transactions to do with your estate are on the up and up, and that your executor is not taken advantage of by predatory creditors or scam artists.

Traits to Look for in Your Executor

Because of the multiple tasks your executor will have to manage, it is best to choose someone for the position who is not only trustworthy but is also:

  • Ethical and fair-minded
  • Has good organizational skills and is efficient
  • Has the ability to handle money wisely
  • Has strong interpersonal skills  
  • Has an even temperament 

It is also important to remember that the person you choose as your personal representative may decline to take on the position, so you discuss this before you name her or him in your will.

Because of the personality traits needed to be a first-rate executor, you will be better off choosing someone who is a good fit for the job rather than the person you love most. Also, it’s a good idea to choose someone younger than you who is less likely to predecease you. If you don’t find the right candidate, you may choose to assign the role to a financial institution or to your trusted estate planning attorney.

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we frequently advise and assist personal representatives who may be undertaking duties unfamiliar to them. We are happy to use our extensive experience to help clients through the challenging period of settling an estate, during which they are probably also grieving. Many times, we can take over portions of the legal tasks they are faced with. And if you designate our team as your executor, you can depend on us to the job effectively and with great care.