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Savvy Senior: Choosing an executor for your will

July 29, 2018

Dear Savvy Senior,

What options can you recommend for finding a good executor for my will? At one time, I thought one of my two kids could do it, but they are both financially inept and would probably make a mess of things.

— Looking for Options

Dear Looking,

Choosing an executor – the person or institution you put in charge of administering your estate and carrying out your final wishes – is one of the most important decisions in preparing a will.

A good executor can help ensure the prompt, accurate distribution of your possessions with minimal problems. Some of the duties required include filing court papers to start the probate process, managing your estate’s assets, using your estate’s funds to pay debts, taxes and bills, handling details like terminating credit cards and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of the death, preparing and filing final income tax returns, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the will.

Given all the responsibility, the ideal candidate should be someone who is honest, dependable, well-organized, good with paperwork and vigilant about meeting deadlines.

Who to choose

Most people think first of naming a family member, especially a spouse or child, as executor. If, however, you don’t have an obvious family member to choose, you may want to ask a trusted friend, but be sure to choose someone in good health or younger than you who will likely be around after you’re gone.

Also, if your executor of choice happens to live in another state, you’ll need to check your state’s law to see if it imposes any special requirements. Some states require an out-of-state executor to be a family member or a beneficiary, some require a bond to protect your heirs in case of mismanagement and some require the appointment of an in-state agent.

Also keep in mind that if the person you choose needs help settling your estate they can always call on an expert like an attorney or tax account to guide them through the process, with your estate picking up the cost.

If, however, you don’t have a friend or relative you feel comfortable with, you could name a third-party executor like a bank, trust company or a professional who has experience dealing with estates. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC.org) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) are great resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.

Executor fees

Most family members and close friends, especially if they’re beneficiaries, serve for free because inherited money isn’t taxable. But if you opt for a third-party executor, it will cost your estate. Each state has laws that govern how an executor is paid — either based on a percentage of the estate, a flat fee or an hourly rate.

Get approval

Whoever you choose to serve as your executor, be sure you get their OK first before naming him or her in your will. And once you’ve made your choice, go over your financial details in your will with that person, and let him or her know where you keep all your important documents and financial information. This will make it easier on them after you’re gone.

For more information on the duties of an executor, get a copy of the book “The Executor’s Guide: Settling A Loved One’s Estate or Trust” for $28 at NOLO.com.

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