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How To Choose an Executor For Your Will

Written by: FindLaw Staff , Contributing Author
Reviewed by: Catherine Hodder, Esq. , Senior Legal Writer
Last updated March 06, 2024

Still not sure what estate planning tools you need?

Deciding on the person to name as the executor or personal representative of your will can be difficult. Learn how to choose one that is right for you.

Table of Contents

What Does the Executor of a Will Do?

An executor is a person named in your will or appointed by the court if you do not have a will. An executor is also called a personal representative. They have a legal responsibility to follow the terms of the will and to administer the deceased person’s estate. Typical duties of an executor include:

  • Maintaining property until the estate is settled (e.g., upkeep of a house)
  • Collecting any outstanding debts owed to the deceased on behalf of the estate
  • Collecting life insurance policies
  • Paying bills for the estate
  • Filing the decedent’s final tax returns
  • Filing the estate tax return
  • Distributing property according to the will
  • Making probate court appearances to report on the estate

The executor of your will also communicates with the probate court, attorneys, creditors, and beneficiaries.

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Who Should I Choose as My Executor?

Because most wills are straightforward, little legal or financial knowledge is required to be an executor. It’s common for people to name a loved one as their executor, such as:

  • A spouse
  • A sibling
  • An adult child
  • A close friend

Because the probate process requires court appearances and property maintenance, choosing an executor who lives near the estate/home can be helpful.

Also, discuss the job duties of the executor with the person you wish to name as your executor. It’s essential that the person is willing to serve and understand where you keep your bank accounts and important records.

Can My Beneficiaries Serve as Executors?

Selecting an executor from among those who will inherit property under the will is common. Self-interest should ensure that they will protect assets, maintain the real estate and ensure the timely completion of the probate process.

Friends and Family Don’t Have To Be Your Executor

However, you may not have surviving family members or friends or do not want them to serve as your executor. You can hire a professional executor to administer your estate, such as a bank, a trust company, a CPA, a corporate trustee, or a probate law firm.

Can I Name Co-Executors?

Yes, however, it may complicate things. Often someone names co-executors if they have concerns that one person may need help handling the responsibilities or they want to avoid the appearance of picking a favorite. For example, a mother may name both of her adult children as co-executors. Having two or more co-executors does not split the responsibilities or diminish their fiduciary duties. Each co-executor is fully responsible for completing the probate tasks.

The problem arises if the co-executors do not agree on a course of action. Or one co-executor handles things without communicating with the other co-executor. Disagreements among co-executors lead to delays in probate and often result in lawsuits. Instead, the mother may opt to name one child as the executor and the other child as the backup executor if the first child is unable or unwilling to serve.

In any case, co-executors should have a good working relationship.

Are There Any Restrictions on Who I Can Name as My Executor?

Each state’s laws are different, but generally, you cannot name the following people for the role of an executor:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Convicted felons

Some states require that out-of-state executors also be primary beneficiaries. Review your state’s probate law requirements or ask your estate planning lawyer before you choose an executor.

What Qualities Should I Consider When Choosing My Executor?

While an executor does not need specific legal or financial knowledge, it certainly helps the probate process proceed efficiently if the executor possesses the qualities of:

  • Honesty
  • Organization
  • Timeliness
  • Attention to detail
  • Good communication skills

Why good communication? Because family dynamics are extremely sensitive after a death in the family. An executor who can’t or won’t communicate can worsen existing tensions. Poor communication could lead to family squabbles, will contests, or other estate litigation.

Your heirs may disagree with your decision to name a particular person as the executor. It can help to discuss your choice with family members when you draft your will, so they understand your reasoning.

Should I Name an Alternate Executor?

It’s wise to name an alternate or backup executor at the time you write your will. Your first choice for executor may decline the responsibility when the time comes to do the work. They may have moved away. Or they may have died. If you have named an alternate executor, that person will be asked to fulfill the role by the probate judge.

If your named executors are unable or unwilling to serve, the court will choose an executor for your estate.

Is the Executor Paid?

You can pay an executor for their services. The money to pay the executor comes from the estate itself. Many states allow a “reasonable fee”; some states set a fee as a specific percentage of the estate assets. Additionally, the estate should reimburse the executor for any out-of-pocket expenses of the estate.

Family members do not always charge for their services as executors of an estate, but you will pay a fee to hire a professional for this service.

Some states require out-of-state executors to obtain a bond to protect the estate from wrongful use of assets by the executor. Check the laws in your state and be sure that whomever you choose can cover the upfront cost of such a bond. Or you may have the option to waive the bond requirement in your will, so your executor does not have to post a bond.

If the will is complex, or if significant court time is required, an executor may want to hire a probate lawyer to help handle the estate, which is also at the estate’s expense.

Should My Executor Hire a Probate Lawyer?

The probate process is fairly routine; most people can accomplish it with little or no help from a probate or estate planning attorney. The executor may hire appraisers, accountants, or lawyers to assist in the probate process, especially if the estate:

  • Is complex or involves complicated legal documents
  • Involves a business
  • Includes real estate that may have legal issues
  • Could be subject to significant tax liability

However, there may be reasons an executor wants to work with a probate lawyer, such as:

  • If the executor is uncomfortable with their role and would like an attorney to provide legal advice to handle the estate
  • There is a lot of conflict among the heirs, and the executor fears a legal challenge or probate litigation

Get Started With Your Will

Now that you understand the ideal qualities of a good executor, you are ready to draft your will using state-specific do-it-yourself estate planning forms. Here, you can nominate the right executor of your estate and any backup or alternate executors. Once completed, you can have peace of mind that you selected an excellent executor to follow your final wishes and properly administer your estate.

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