Agreeing to execute the will of a loved one or friend involves more then most people realize. Executors are encouraged to prepare ahead of time to the greatest extent possible. Experts share their insights for doing so, along with an overview of the kinds of responsibilities executors agree to when they say yes.
Among the important decisions made when a will is created, is the designation of a family member, friend, or professional to administer the estate on behalf of the testator. This representative is commonly referred to as an executor. As an expert at Hill Law Group sums up: “The executor’s role is to be diligent, not steal from the estate, and to follow the requests of the testator found in their will….” What exactly does diligence as an executor entail? According to Barrons:
Typically, the job involves three big matters: collecting the decedent’s assets; taking inventory of his or her liabilities and financial obligations; and dividing assets among the beneficiaries….An executor’s responsibilities could entail settling debts, filing a final tax return, transferring accounts to the rightful beneficiaries and, if required, disposing of the assets of the deceased. Depending on the size of the estate and complexities, there could be…additional tasks an executor must carry out, such as dealing with disputes over assets or litigation.
“If you’re lucky to know that you’ve been appointed to be an executor while the testator is still alive, take some time to sit down with the individual and go through all assets and liabilities,” says Randa Hoffman, founder of Radiant Wealth Planning…“I have seen so many times children not aware of all of their deceased parent’s investments only to later find stock certificates in the back of a sock drawer.”
When circumstances permit, pragmatics, like asking the testator for access to account statements and passwords are ideal preparatory steps for executors. Going further, John Cocklereece a lawyer at Bell, Davis & Pitt suggests suggests: “Getting to know the heirs can be helpful to establish a good working relationship or to identify areas of potential dispute in advance….” Executors have a fiduciary duty to administer the affairs of the deceased in accordance with the law—and are obligated to act in the best interest of the estate and beneficiaries. Given the gravitas of their duties, executors are often required to obtain an executor bond. Sometimes these bonds are specifically requested during probate. Essentially, an executor bond guarantees the faithful performance of the executor in accordance with the law. Colonial Surety Company makes it quick and easy to get an executor bond: obtain a quote online, fill in the information and enter a payment method. The bond can then be e-filed or printed from anywhere—even probate court, the law office or zoom room.
Families typically underestimate the amount of time executors spend on the duties involved in settling the affairs of the deceased. For example, unresolved tax issues can cause problems and delays: “The estate…can’t be closed until the Internal Revenue Service confirms acceptance of the final estate tax return, a drawn-out process that can take two years or more from the date the person died. It may take longer if the estate is disputed, the IRS has further questions, or there are creditor claims, according to the American College of Trust & Estate Counsel.”
Given the depth of responsibilities, it is acceptable for executors to be compensated for their services. An executor is generally entitled to a fee, or commission, for their services. Barrons explains: “The amount he or she would receive—either a flat fee or a ‘reasonable remuneration’—may be stated in the will. However, in the absence of a specific amount or the will itself, each state has a default fee schedule (usually a percentage of the estate) used to calculate how much the executor is owed.”
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