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How to Pick the Right Executor of My Will?

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I want to name a new executor. Who could I name as a backup?

How do you pick the right executor of your will? A job well started is half done, and selecting the right executor, who in Maryland is called the “Personal Representative,” is a key step in having a probate case process smoothly.

When I first finished law school, I was law clerk to the Honorable Arthur Ahalt in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. He had an outlook about juries: select the right foreman and the process generally worked very well. Leadership in the area of executive functioning really matters, and being executor is definitely an executive function. In most cases, at a minimum, the executor is responsible for cleaning out your home, selling it, and doing at least two income tax returns.

MoneySense’s recent article, “Should the sole recipient of an estate be the executor too?” explains that naming someone as an executor is an extremely important duty. The task carries a lot of responsibility. With new rules that have been passed in the last year, reporting taxes and understanding assets in an estate is extremely important.

There are several factors to consider when you think about who you might name as an executor. First is age. It’s smart to choose at least one or two people on the list who are younger than you. Although that doesn’t guarantee that person will outlive you, it certainly will increase the odds. Ideally, you should try to find a person who is comfortable with the areas of money and taxes and who doesn’t easily get overwhelmed by paperwork. Does the candidate have a good history of working with deadlines?

Because the role of estate executor can be an intense issue that takes a great amount of time, the person you choose ideally will be retired or have the time and energy to dedicate the substantial time commitment required to do the job properly. Based on the complexity of the assets in the estate—and the amount of planning the deceased person has done to make the job easier—the winding up of an estate can take more than a year. If the assets must be probated, you’ll want the person you appoint to understand the process and liability that she’s accepting. There are multiple tax returns and filings that must be completed and filed at specific times.

When you pick an executor, consider the following: Is the person in your estimation reasonable and fair-minded? Are they pleasant and flexible? Will they make the kinds of judgment calls that you would be comfortable with?

There are banks that offer trust services, but these can be expensive and will take a chunk out of the estate in fees until the last tax filing is completed. An attorney is also a good choice, but not many lawyers will take on the liability and have the time to act as an executor. We are willing, but not eager, to serve in that role, as we would rather advise a trusted friend or family member.

Many people ask a family member who’s either performed these duties in the past or is willing and knowledgeable enough to do things in a conscientious manner and follow through. Remember, the more estate planning that’s done in advance, the easier it makes it for an executor.

Another option is to have two or more adult children act as an executor. This brings two sets of personal skills to the table. However, this can add some complexity to the process because first, they have to both be in agreement on every issue, and second, they must both be available to make decisions and sign documents at the same time. These days you can have siblings living from Maine to Oregon, and people can travel all over the world at any time.

Make sure the person you’re considering is aware of not only your thoughts but also of the time commitment and process involved. An executor, unhappy with their role, can ask the court to remove them. However, this can result in the estate being tied up for a long time.

Reference: MoneySense (March 27, 2019) “Should the sole recipient of an estate be the executor too?”

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