What Should I Know Before Agreeing to be an Executor?

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Serving as an executor requires both time and energy.

You have been asked to serve as an executor (also known by the gender neutral title of “personal representative”).

You are flattered.

Being asked to serve as an executor for an estate is an honor.

Although you feel honored, you want to understand the role before you commit.

According to a recent The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times article titled “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate,” executors are responsible for setting the estate of a decedent.

Serving as an executor is a significant responsibility.
The executor of the state is responsible for managing and distributing assets.

The complexity of the role will mirror the complexity of the estate.

To settle an estate, the executor must file the last will and testament with the court to begin the probate process.

In Kansas, that filing must be within six months of the testator’s death.

On the Missouri side, that filing period is one year.

[Do not ask me why there is that six month statutory disparity between the two states that share a border just under two miles from where I am physically writing this.]

Regardless, once appointed by the probate judge the executor then has the authority inventory assets and the responsibility to pay bills, taxes, and funeral expenses from the estate.

The role also requires one to cancel credit cards and inform creditors, Social Security, and the post office about the death of the testator.

The executor will need to prepare and file the final income tax return, too.

After all of this, you can begin distributing assets to the heirs.

Whew.

Although these are general executor responsibilities, your specific state may include additional requirements for this role.

Where do you start?

Get organized.

If the testator is still alive, you should encourage the testator to organize all important documents.

This will make your job as an executor easier later.

You will need to know the location of important documents.

When the decedent passes away, you should gather the last will and testament, the deeds, the insurance policies, and other important documents.

Before getting too far down the road with your responsibilities, retain a probate attorney to assist you.

These legal services are paid through the estate.

Avoid conflicts.

Emotions run high after the death of a loved one.

Mix the grief of loss with the stakes of financial gain from an inheritance and you have a recipe for conflict.

Encourage the testator to inform beneficiaries in advance what they will receive and the reasons for the decisions.

There should also be a plan for division of personal property.

Having these in place, can minimize the risk of a will contest.

Executor fees.

Often, an executor is provided with an executor fee paid from the estate.

In many states, like Missouri, this is based on a percentage of the estate.

Typically, this is between one and five percent.

In other states, like Kansas, this compensation is a “fair and reasonable” fee based on the actual services performed.

If you are a beneficiary as well, it may be wise to decline an executor fee to minimize taxes and avoid upsetting other beneficiaries.

Serving as an executor is both a significant responsibility and a huge honor, but know what  is involved before you agree to designated in any last will and testament.

Reference: The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times (Aug. 19, 2020) “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate”