A loved one or close friend is developing their estate plan and asks if they can name you as their executor (also known as the personal representative). You’re likely flattered. You may feel obligated to take on the job (and it is a job).
However, before you say yes, it’s crucial to understand the implications. If you’re named in the estate plan as the executor, changing your mind later will likely require a modification of the plan. If you decide after the person dies that it’s more than you can handle, you’ll need to deal with the probate court, which will pass on the responsibility to the alternate executor, if one was named, or name someone else whom the deceased may not have wanted to handle things.
So before you give an answer, ask some questions and then take some time to consider whether you still think you will have the time, energy, skills and desire to take on this responsibility. What should you know?
How complex is the estate?
You don’t need to see the entire estate plan, but you need to get an idea of how large and complicated the estate is. How much property will need to be distributed or disposed of? Is there just a will, or are their trusts and other instruments? If it is complex, is the person detailing their wishes clearly in the estate plan so that there’s little room for confusion or dispute?
What about the heirs?
What are the family dynamics? If the person developing the estate plan has no living relatives and is leaving all of their assets to charities, that’s a lot easier to deal with than multiple children and ex-spouses who may be unhappy with what’s in the plan.
If you’re a family member, how well can you navigate potential family squabbles? If you’re one of multiple siblings, it may be best not to take on this role. At least consider how your other siblings will feel about it.
What are the responsibilities?
Finally, it’s wise to do some reading on the responsibilities you’ll have from the moment the person passes away. Are these things you can deal with – with or without any financial, legal and other professional help you may call on? These are just a few of the questions you should ask before you decide whether or not to be an executor.