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Five hard questions to ask yourself about your estate executor

By Elizabeth McKinney
Attorney, English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

DeathtoStock_Wired4Most people don’t give much thought to who will be their estate executor. Often, the automatic choice is a spouse or a child. The person chosen is often the person closest to the person creating the will.

But this isn’t always the best strategy. As we know, and you have no doubt seen at some point in your life, emotions run high after a death, and items that were near and dear to the decedent’s heart become prized possessions, and sometimes, those items are worth a lot of money. A prized piece of art may have much more than sentimental value.

The executor of your estate may not be prepared to deal with all of these emotions, and if they’re someone close to you, they may find that they’re processing their own grief while trying to meet the demands of friends and family waiting to receive inherited items or money.

This is why we recommend that those creating a will take a long, hard, objective look at who they choose as the executor of their estate and really examine if the person they’ve chosen is capable of carrying out your wishes without creating long-term problems for your family and friends.

Before you’ve committed to this, take a look at these five hard questions and apply them to your executor. Do they pass the test?

  1. How does the proposed executor handle disputes?

If this is someone you are close to, you’ve probably seen them angry. If they resorted to name-calling, or on the other end, went completely dark and didn’t respond to anyone, those are both problematic behaviors. The executor will need to handle any problems that arise without making it personal, and will need to be responsive to the court, other attorneys, potential creditors, and family members. No one should be left wondering what’s going on – and no one should suffer verbal abuse from an executor. Even if it will lead to an argument now, choose someone level-headed, calm and who gets along with most people.

2. Does the executor have time to handle your estate?

The executor you have in mind may be someone who has small children, a full-time job and may even be caring for an elderly relative. If the estate has lots of bank accounts, real estate, insurance policies or bequests, serving as an executor can be a full-time job. You can simplify as much of this as possible now to make it easier on your executor, but it’s best to choose someone who has the time to chase down the details and paperwork that’s needed.  Usually, as long as the executor is local, these burdens can be overcome with the assistance of a probate attorney.

3. Does the executor have any kind of financial troubles?

This list includes bankruptcy, massive debt, gambling debts or addictions and/or drug issues. We’d be remiss not to mention that this person isn’t a good fit for serving as an executor, even though it seems incredibly obvious.

4. Is the executor in good health?

You want an executor who will outlive you and have the physical stamina to go back and forth to meetings with attorneys, the courthouse, banks, and other similar outings.

5. How much is the executor getting from your estate?

If your executor is the primary person inheriting from your estate, this may not be the best situation. This can create a situation that looks bad to other family members, if you care about that, and can also create a tempting situation for the executor to take more than they are technically entitled to.  Although, it is fairly common for us to see the main beneficiary named in the will also be the executor.  As you could imagine, we’ve also seen the disputes that arise from this situation.

Particularly you have a sizable estate, the best executor is someone who is objective and doesn’t stand to inherit from your estate. This can be an attorney, a financial advisor or a bank officer.
This is often a tough choice to make, but remember, you’re doing this for all the right reasons, and in the end, making the right choice to find someone who is objective and has your estate’s best interests at heart.

If you need advice on selecting an executor for your estate or anything concerning estate planning, please contact me, Beth McKinney, at emckinney@elpolaw.com or (270) 781-6500.

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