The executor’s role in estate planning is a crucial one. A great number of responsibilities come with the job. The main responsibility is to ensure that the will is carried out to the instructions of the testator – the person who created the will. The role is detail-oriented, tiresome and, often, thankless.
The primary quality one needs for this role is willingness. Ideally, the testator will have contacted this person as he or she was assembling the will, and asked whether they would consider being the executor. It is important for a testator to gauge the comfort level of the would-be executor. They should also choose someone they believe to be honest, reliable, organized, financially savvy, fair and sensitive, especially to the worries of all involved. But what exactly does an executor do?
Dealing with creditors, tracking down property
Here is an incomplete list of some of the critical responsibilities of an executor:
- Track down all property, which can be time-consuming if the testator did not maintain good records. Once this is complete, the property must be appraised, and then distributed or sold.
- Work with creditors to pay off any outstanding debts.
- Work with government officials to pay off any outstanding taxes.
- Tactfully deal with heirs in the midst of grief. It is the executor’s responsibility to help resolve any conflicts that arise. Sometimes, it is like being a sports referee.
- Dealing with life insurance companies to determine if the policy is payable to the estate, and confirm later distribution to beneficiaries.
- Contacting the Social Security Administration (SSA) to inform the government about the death of the person. If the testator received Social Security payments, those payments will end.
- Manage all investments until their distribution to beneficiaries. This may includes retirement funds such as IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s, mutual funds and annuities.
In some situations, the testator names a back-up executor. And, sometimes, professional executors such as banks and attorneys participate. If you are uncertain about taking on the role of an executor, remember that you likely will be working with an attorney who will help you complete this critical mission.