Imagine for a moment you have been appointed executor of someone’s estate, and he or she passes away. Do you know what to do? Where will the deceased's things go? Where do you even start? Or, perhaps you are writing your will and you need to decide who to appoint as executor; here are some things to consider regarding this important post.
Appointing an Executor in the First Place
When making a will, the testator (will maker) should appoint someone executor who will make responsible decisions, and who will follow any directions left in the will for the disposal or distribution of property. An executor may be a family member, close friend, or sometimes simply someone who has the ability to handle an estate (e.g., a trust company). A person appointed to handle an estate in a will is called the executor; a person not appointed in the will but handling the estate anyway is called the administrator.
Who Qualifies as a Good Executor?
Being an executor is a huge responsibility. The fate of someone else’s belongings is in the executor's hands and the executor must be capable of honoring the deceased's wishes. Choosing someone to be an executor is a major decision, essentially it making decisions on someone else’s behalf. Some of the responsibilities that an executor acquires in the event of a death include:
- Making reasonable funeral arrangements.
- Finding and taking control of the assets of the deceased.
- Preparing an inventory, valuing the assets, and keeping an account.
- Finding and probating the will, if necessary.
- Dealing with debts and claims against the estate.
- Accounting to, distributing to, and getting releases from the beneficiaries.
The duties listed above require an executor that has certain qualities and a particular mindset. An executor who will likely do a good job is someone who possesses such attributes as patience, wisdom, knowledge, discretion, and organization. These people embrace their new responsibility of being appointed executor and they take on these tasks maturely and carefully. There are a couple of things you might want to consider while making the decision to accept the executor role. That's right -- you do not have to accept it! More on that in a moment.
Do You Have the Time, Energy, and Knowledge Necessary?
A death is often unexpected and can occur in a very busy time in a person’s life. You may be in the middle of a hectic time at work, or family obligations could have a significant impact on how well you can handle this role. You may simply being too worn out from other situations in life, such as the death itself. If you feel that being an executor will cause too much stress, then perhaps this may not be the best job for you. Don’t feel guilty if you feel that you cannot take it on; it is important for it to be done correctly and well, otherwise things could become very complicated. If you do feel like it is something you can handle, know that it is a lot of work, but by seeking out professional help and being confident, doing a good job is possible.
Do You Have the Expertise?
Finally, do you feel as though you would be able to take initiative in order to figure out how to handle someone else’s estate after their death? Many people have little to no knowledge regarding this role and it is not a job that suits just anyone. It is important to be able to ask questions and learn about the job as there is a lot of knowledge that should be brought to the position. Being an executor is not the same as simply house-sitting; you are essentially handling the remnants of someone’s life and making critical decisions as to what will come of it. Ultimately, you must be willing to spend the time to educate yourself on what is required of this role. If not, it is advisable that someone else take on the responsibility before you begin making arrangements that are too much for you to handle.
It's Your Choice
If you are writing your will, it is your choice as to who you appoint as executor.
Also, you are not bound to be an executor if someone has chosen you for the job. If, after careful consideration you feel you can handle it, the job can be worthwhile. If you decide not to take it on, you can decline.
For More Information
Canadian lawyer Tom Carter’s book, So You’ve Been Appointed Executor
, is available in our web store
. The information that is available in this book is for anyone who has been appointed executor in a will, is taking on the role of administrator of an estate, is writing a will, or is just curious about all the different roles involved. Tom Carter has offered his expertise on the basics of what an executor does, the duties specific to the job, and examples of situations where an executor is needed.