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Ask Yourself These 7 Questions Before Becoming the Executor of an Estate



Has a parent, sibling or friend asked you to be the executor of his or her estate? It may be your first instinct to agree immediately to settle the estate for someone you love after they die, but not everyone is cut out for the job.

Before you agree to take on the many detailed and tedious responsibilities of an executor, you must make sure you have the personality and skills necessary to settle the estate without causing undue stress and disruption to your life.

1. Do I understand the duties of an executor?

As the executor of someone’s estate, you will be responsible for locating, reviewing, and understanding the will and filing the will with probate court if necessary. The executor must also make funeral arrangements, locate life insurance policies, and obtain copies of death certificates and possibly copies of birth and marriage certificates.

Duties of the executor also include locating all of the decedent’s property such as houses and contents, safety deposit boxes, and personal property. You’ll need to manage estate assets and open a separate checking account for the estate so the decedent’s funds don’t co-mingle with your own.

The executor must then pay from the estate any debts, taxes, and expenses owed and distribute assets to beneficiaries before settling the estate.

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2. How complex is the estate?

It’s one thing to settle an estate for someone who has only a home, a car, and a couple of bank or investment accounts. But a more complex estate, with more than one real estate property, commercial real estate, or a business is much more complicated.

Ask the person who wants to appoint you as executor what his or her estate includes. Then decide if you want to become the executor and whether you’ll need to hire an attorney to help you settle the estate.

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3. How good am I at administrative tasks?

Have you worked as a manager for years? Do you manage your own finances well? If so, you may find that you’re a natural at filing and obtaining records, taking notes of conversations with bankers and lawyers, canceling utility and credit card accounts, and other detailed and sometimes tedious tasks.

However, if you dislike talking on the phone, are disorganized, hate reading contracts, and finances befuddle you, you’re probably not a good candidate for executor of an estate.

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4. Am I organized?

The tasks of the executor are many, and it takes an organized person to keep track of deadlines, bank accounts, phone conversations, email correspondence, life insurance policies and claims, and copies of all records. If you’re not an organized person, the stress of executive duties could take a toll, creating anxiety, stress, and sleepless nights.

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5. Do I get tasks done on time?

Each state has its own laws and timelines for completing executor responsibilities. If you’re a person who stays on top of necessary tasks, great. If you’re a procrastinator, however, the executor appointment isn’t for you. Dragging out a settlement of the estate won’t just irritate beneficiaries, either.

If you fail to perform the fiduciary duties of an executor, you can be sued by beneficiaries or removed from the executor position. In some states, if you fail to file the will, you may even face criminal charges.

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6. How busy is my life?

Generally, acting as the executor of an estate takes a lot of time and attention. Not only will you have numerous administrative tasks on your plate, but you’ll also spend time running to courthouses, consulting with lawyers, obtaining copies, and mailing registered letters.

Also expect plenty of phone calls, correspondence, and face-to-face visits with banks and insurance companies. Live in a different city than the decedent? If so, factor in travel time and expenses, too.

7. How is my relationship with my siblings?

If your family gets along great, then settling the estate for a parent will be much easier than if you and your siblings have a history of bickering, dishonesty, or estrangement. In those cases, the chances of one of your siblings contesting the will or causing turmoil are greater and maybe enough for you to decline to take on the executor role.

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