By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
REGION – The role of an executor for a someone’s estate holds a lot of responsibility. It is important for that person to fully understand what is being asked of him or her. Their main focus is to ensure that the deceased’s wishes of “who gets what” is carried out and, in many cases, this can be quite challenging.
“I am a little biased and suggest hiring a lawyer for the probate part,” said attorney John Costanzo of Bolton. “The paperwork is very confusing and if you send it in with something wrong, they don’t get to it for a few weeks and then it gets sent back to you for corrections, so you are already a month and a half behind.”
The executor should begin the process of handling the estate within two years of the date of the person’s passing; however, most choose to begin the process immediately. If the person assigning an executor, also known as a testator, is very organized and has meticulous lists of debts, assets, bank accounts, passwords, contact information for their accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, the location of the original will and more, the process for the executor is much easier.
What makes a good executor
Traits that make a good executor are someone who is trustworthy, organized, empathetic, fair and unbiased, and dependable. Usually, an executor is someone close to the person who is requesting they take on this daunting task. Ideally, the executor is made aware of this prior to the testator’s death so they are able to go over all of the documents needed and know how to easily access things that are needed to settle the estate.
“There are a few things that I have found that help to make a good executor. The first is being efficient,” said Costanzo. “The biggest complaint I get about personal representatives is that they take too long. Next is being careful not to deviate from the words of the will. If beneficiaries want to give their money to someone else, it is done afterwards. Lastly, I strongly suggest getting help with the final tax return.”
“The executor will be put in a position of power where they will have access to your finances and will review your assets and pay any outstanding debts,” said Matthew Karr, attorney at The Heritage Law Center in Woburn. “They will have a fiduciary duty to act on the behalf of the estate and beneficiaries, not make decisions to benefit their own personal interests.”
If there is an absence of this type of information, the executor almost needs to become a detective and try to locate important documents like tax records, accounts, insurance policies, property deeds, a possible safety deposit box and more.
The executor should also get multiple copies of the death certificate as these certificates are needed to close any bank accounts of the deceased, transfer their accounts, cancel credit cards, sell a home and complete other tasks to settle the estate.
“The executor is now also known as a ‘personal representative.’ This person might be named in the will, but you still have to be named in probate court,” said Costanzo.
You can decline serving as an executor
The original will must be located and filed along with the death certificate with the probate court to obtain a letter that recognizes you as the executor. It is important to note, that if you are named in the will to be the executor, you do have the right to say no if you do not feel comfortable taking on this responsibility. If you agree, you hire a lawyer, and inform any necessary parties who have a certain number of days to protest.
“There are also a lot of financial considerations to be made,” said Karr. “Choose someone who is responsible with money and has a decent grasp on how to manage it. A good executor should know when to reach out to professionals, like estate planning lawyers, accountants and financial planners when needed to assist them.”
“My sister and I were co-executors of my parents’ estate,” said Lois Wollin of Westborough, “and we are grateful that they had everything prepared for us ahead of time with their local attorney. While the process took several months, we found the process seamless because of their due diligence.”
You must inform Social Security immediately upon a person’s death even though no one has been assigned yet as the personal representative. A family member can do this.
A demanding but rewarding role
The process of settling someone’s estate can be very taxing and drawn out. The will is not open to interpretation and the wishes of the person who died need to be followed precisely.
The executor’s role in handling someone’s estate is of great importance. It takes a lot of time, patience and energy to fulfill this role but it can also be quite rewarding to know that someone trusted you with their final wishes.