Being selected as an estate executor may be an honor. Before accepting this position, however, you should understand the important probate and estate administration duties that executors must perform.
Executors act on behalf of the testator who signed the will and handle all the testator’s financial and other final arrangements. New Jersey law also governs these duties.
Regardless of the estate’s size, you must determine whether you have the time and knowledge to be an executor.
Even small estates with a few beneficiaries can be difficult if one person contests the will or causes difficulties. Estates with more beneficiaries or complicated assets typically require more time and expertise to disburse.
Before accepting, you should review the current or draft will. Consider refusing if there are some obvious complications such as unequal distributions or trusts or annuities that need dealt with.
An executor must commit their time and focus on details. Make sure that your job and family commitments allow you to meet this commitment.
Review your ability to serve as an executor each time your life changes through events like marriage, having children, or getting older. Testators often change executors over time.
Consider whether you live in another state and your proximity to the testator. This may require travel to deal with paperwork and other issues.
You may request that the will designates a co-executor or allow the hiring of professional help. You cannot appoint someone else to assist you or take your place after the testator dies.
The testator may die, and your duties may start at any time. Take these steps now:
- Assure that the testator keeps an updated list of assets, debts, bank and investment accounts and real estate.
- Have access to the original will and asset list.
- Have contact information for the testator’s attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors.
- Discuss the testator’s directions for the funeral or memorial service, including burial or cremation instructions.
- Discuss the will with the testator and, if possible, the beneficiaries to avoid future problems.
- Obtain copies of the will, letter of intent, powers of attorney and any other important documents.
After the testator’s death
This is the real time-consuming and detail-oriented work. It includes funeral arrangements, locating and filing the will, clearing probate, managing assets, settling debts, filing tax returns, handling trusts, and responding to legal challenges.
Compensation is based upon a specific percentage of the estate if the executor did not address this. It may include extraordinary fees for an unusual amount of work. Executors are also entitled to reimbursement for their expenses.
Executors may also become involved in legal actions. Attorneys can help executors with these important duties.