An executor is the person you name in your will to handle your property after death. The executor--called a personal representative in many states-must be prepared to carry out a long list of tasks prudently and promptly.
How do I choose an executor?
The most important factor in naming an executor is trust. The person you choose should be honest, with good organizational skills and the ability to keep track of details. If possible, name someone who lives nearby and who is familiar with your financial matters; that will make it easier to do chores like collecting mail and locating important records and papers.
Many people select someone who will inherit a substantial amount of their property. This makes sense, because a person with an interest in how your property is distributed is likely to do a conscientious job of managing your affairs after your death. This person may also come equipped with knowledge of where your records are kept and an understanding of why you want your property left as you have directed.
Whomever you select, make sure the person is willing to do the job. Discuss the position with the person you've chosen before you make your will.
Are there restrictions on whom I may choose as my executor?
Your state may impose some restrictions on who can act as executor. You can't name a minor, a convicted felon, or someone who is not a U.S. citizen. Most states allow you to name someone who lives in another state, but some require that out-of-state executors be a relative or a primary beneficiary under your will. Some states also require that non-resident executors obtain a bond (an insurance policy that protects your beneficiaries in the event of the executor's wrongful use of your estate's property) or name an in-state resident to act as the executor's representative. These complexities underscore the benefits of naming someone who lives nearby. If you feel strongly about naming an executor who lives out of state, be sure to familiarize yourself with your state's rules.
Is it difficult to serve as executor?
Serving as an executor can be a tedious job, but it doesn't require special financial or legal knowledge. Common sense, conscientiousness, and honesty are the main requirements. An executor who needs help can hire lawyers, accountants, or other experts and pay them from the assets of the deceased person's estate.
Essentially, the executor's job is to protect the deceased person's property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and see that what's left is transferred to the people who are entitled to it. The law does not require an executor to display more than reasonable prudence and judgment, but it does require the highest degree of honesty, impartiality, and diligence. This is called a "fiduciary duty"-the duty to act with scrupulous good faith and candor on behalf of someone else.
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