You know you should have a will, and you’ve finally gotten around to making an appointment with an attorney to prepare an estate plan. You’re sitting across a table from the attorney when he asks, “Whom do you want to serve as executor of your estate?”
If you’re like most people, you haven’t put much thought into this question. Perhaps you feel your executor should be your spouse, or your oldest child if your spouse predeceases you. You might even be worried about insulting someone you feel you “should” choose by selecting someone else to be your executor.
Being named executor of someone’s estate is more than simply an honor, and it’s certainly not a right that someone should expect. Here are some things to think about when choosing an executor for your estate.
What Being an Executor Involves
Being the executor of a Michigan estate involves a number of duties: opening a probate estate with the county Probate Court; gathering the deceased’s assets; notifying heirs and creditors of the death; paying outstanding debts; filing and paying taxes; making reports to the Probate Court; distributing assets; and finally, closing the estate.
These duties are not necessarily obvious and straightforward. Some of them can be tremendously time-consuming. While an executor (also known as a personal representative or administrator) is entitled to help, such as an attorney and perhaps an accountant, paid for by the estate, the executor still remains responsible for the proper and timely completion of these tasks.
Mishandling or neglect of duties can result in personal liability for the executor, but it can also diminish the value of the estate and delay heirs and beneficiaries from receiving their share. Inept administration of the estate can also lead to litigation by heirs or creditors, leading not only to delays and dissipation of estate assets, but to damaged relationships between the executor and other heirs.
Traits to Look for in an Executor
First and foremost, your executor should be ethical; naming someone you know to be dishonest as your executor is a recipe for disaster, especially if your estate contains significant assets. Beyond this minimum requirement, there are many traits, both practical and personal, that make for a good personal representative.
On the practical side, it is helpful (though not mandatory) to have an executor who lives or works near the county in which your estate is being probated. Likewise, it’s a good idea to name an administrator who will have the time to carry out their duties. Someone who is already overburdened by their own responsibilities may not be the best choice, whatever their other abilities.
It’s always wise to choose an executor who has knowledge of business, especially if your estate will contain a business or other complex assets. It’s possible the executor will need to step in and run the business for a time, find someone else to do so, or begin the process of winding the business down. Your executor should also have a level of internet savvy sufficient to allow them to track down assets.
On the practical side, it is helpful to have an executor who lives or works near the county in which your estate is being probated. And, if your estate will include a business or other complex assets, it’s wise to choose someone with knowledge of business.
In terms of personality and temperament, you should choose an executor you know to be diligent and detail-oriented. Select someone who is responsible, who has good judgment and ideally a calm temperament. Your executor will be fielding and evaluating claims against your estate. Someone with a level head and strong interpersonal skills may be able to defuse a brewing conflict rather than escalate it.
Last but not least, you will want someone with the emotional and physical stamina needed to handle the affairs of your estate. While it might be your first instinct to name your spouse, whom you certainly know and trust, that might not be the best decision. If you are older when you pass away, your spouse will not only be grieving, but might be physically frail themselves. Administering your estate could be an overwhelming burden in that circumstance.
Your intended executor may not have all the positive qualities described above, but hopefully they will embody many of the traits you need. Together with the help of a trustworthy, experienced Michigan probate attorney, that will be enough.
Many people have revocable living trusts and financial powers of attorney in addition to having a last will and testament. If you are one of those people, the traits you look for in an executor of your estate are the same as those you would want in a successor trustee or an agent for your power of attorney.
Still not sure whom to choose as your executor? Feel free to contact us; we can help you to evaluate both your needs and your options.