You’ve probably heard the old adage: “what are the two best days a boat owner ever has?” Answer: “the day he buys it and the day he sells it.” If you’ve ever owned a boat, you probably understand. Being executor of the estate of a loved one is similar: the day you are asked you feel honored, but the day the estate closes is the best day of serving in that position.
If you’ve never served as an executor or don’t know anyone who has, you are probably wondering “what’s the big deal”? You have a piece of paper that tells you exactly what everyone gets, you take it to the judge and the judge makes sure they get what they are supposed to. Right? Maybe where all parties have met for hours to make sure that everything would go smoothly. But how often does that happen? Rarely if ever.
There are at least three questions you should ask before you agree to serve as executor.
(1) How complicated is the administration of the estate going to be? What is the value of the estate? What are the assets and liabilities? Are any lawsuits or claims expected to be filed against the estate?
(2) Does the family know what the will says and, if so, are they all in agreement about who gets what? Of course, even if the family tells you they are all in agreement now, there’s nothing like the probate of a will to create conflicts in the family. So you will have to take any assurances at this stage with a grain of salt.
(3) Are you qualified? Well, of course, you are, you think. After all, you are a close friend of the family, and the probate court takes care of most if it and you are honored to be asked. Doesn’t that qualify you to be executor? If those are the only questions you ask, then even if you are qualified, you are probably in for a shock.
After all of these questions are answered, seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney before you accept the executor role. Make sure the attorney explains to you exactly what your role will be, exactly what each step of the estate administration entails, and possible pitfalls at each stage and whether he or she would be willing to help when needed. While being asked to be executor is an honor, it would be better to say no than to not be able to carry out the wishes of your loved one because of mismanagement of his or her estate.