If you are reading this, chances are that you will need an executor and/or will be an executor at some point in your life. An executor is the person named in a will to administrate the estate of the person who died leaving that will. The job of the executor is to make sure that the deceased person’s wishes, as described in the will, are carried out.
Here are some of the tasks executors perform:
- Inventorying the assets of the deceased: cash money, financial investments, real estate, collections of valuable objects, the contents of a home, as well as personal articles such as clothing and jewelry (this collection of assets is known as “the estate”).
- Obtaining contact information for far-flung beneficiaries and heirs named in the will, as well as notifying them.
- Identifying any outstanding debts of the deceased person and paying them off. Working with banks and other financial institutions to transfer money from living accounts to estate accounts.
- Calculating the taxes due on the estate, filing the estate tax return, and paying those taxes on time.
- Assisting an attorney, accountant, or other professional associated with the will.
- Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries and heirs after all the above has been completed, and disposing of what remains.
These tasks can be complex, full of “red tape” and frustrating, so it is important to choose the right person for the job.
A good executor is:
- Comfortable with numbers
- A good problem-solver
- Willing to make decisions
- Patient when faced with frustration
- Able to be fair and impartial with family members and other heirs
- Available to spend the considerable time it can take to administer an estate
Too often, people making a will choose their executor based on family dynamics or out of a wish to bestow an ‘honor’ on a special person in their life. They give little consideration to the personal traits and skills needed by the executor, with disastrous results. As a professional organizer specializing in finances and paperwork, I have witnessed these horror stories when the wrong person was chosen for the job of executor:
- The sibling who was emotionally closest to the parent was chosen as executor. The executor was impatient and unable to be impartial; emotional blowups were frequent during the distribution of the estate, and assets were distributed first to the executor and then to the ‘squeaky wheel’ among the heirs.
- The will-maker chose the child who had pursued the same career, believing this ensured the necessary qualifications to be an executor. But this executor lacked the time to administer the estate and was easily frustrated when faced with red tape. The will-maker died five years ago and the estate is still not wrapped up.
- An executor with a lifelong fear of math procrastinated with the numbers and details of the estate, potentially missing tax deadlines and paying penalties and interest as a result.
The key take-away from this post is to choose your executor carefully, based on the skills needed to do the job. But perhaps, you have already chosen an executor who lacks some of these skills, and you don’t want to make waves by changing. Or maybe, you have been named as someone’s executor and feel unqualified for the job. In either case, don’t despair, because help is available. Professional organizers can help inventory the deceased person’s possessions, and can help sell and/or donate possessions not inherited by a specific individual. Some organizers specialize in the organizing of finances, paperwork and information, and can help with these aspects of the executor’s job. A good place to find an organizer to help with the administration of an estate is the ‘Find an Organizer’ link at www.napo-gpc.org.