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Being an Executor: Should You Say Yes?


Have you been asked to serve as Executor of someone’s Will? Some who have done it may say “it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.” Indeed, somebody does have to do it, but will it be you? Knowing what to expect will enable you to make an informed decision.

The probate process involves locating and liquidating the decedent’s assets, settling their debts, and distributing the net assets to the heirs. Sounds simple, but the process can be quite lengthy and complicated.

Locating the assets can often take several months, requiring multiple calls, emails, faxes, etc. Tax issues can take months to resolve. Courthouses take several weeks, to even several months, to process items filed for the estate. The whole process can take up to a year or longer.

The heirs can make things miserable. They fight amongst themselves and become impatient with the time it takes to settle the estate. They want their money now! They may accuse you of hiding or withholding assets. Transparency and communication are key. Providing a realistic overview of the process to them early and maintaining effective communication throughout can minimize the amount of “drama.”

Serving as executor is usually not a high paying job. Unless the will provides otherwise, compensation is based on a small percentage of the probate assets (i.e., those passing under the will). Many assets, such as brokerage and retirement accounts, pass via beneficiary designations, so those are not part of the base for calculating compensation. Additionally, the compensation usually must be approved by the court.

You could be exposed to personal liability for mistakes. Hiring the right team of professionals (experienced probate attorney, accountant, investment advisor, etc.) greatly minimizes this risk.

Knowing the job description ahead of time will enable you to make the right decision about the job, and if you do say yes, it may not be such a dirty job at all!

Amy Shue Isaacs