Choosing Your Estate Executor

Being named an executor by a family member or close friend is an expression of the highest regard and trust, and it is generally regarded as an honor; but, like many honors, it brings with it significant responsibilities and, often, unexpected challenges.

Serving as executor is one of the most complex roles anyone can undertake. The responsibilities are extensive and often highly technical, and the commitment of time and energy can be daunting. The role demands custody, investment, fiduciary, administrative, accounting, legal and tax expertise, and capabilities. Emerging issues related to digital property, not to mention increasingly intricate family structures, add challenges for the executor.

Estate Planning in the 21st century

While the executor's core responsibilities have changed little over the past century, fulfilling those responsibilities has grown more complicated. For one thing, until just a few years ago, an executor on the hunt for important documents might find them in a filing cabinet or in a safety deposit box. But today, important papers may have been sent and stored solely in digital forms, which can muddle the search for important information. And, even if all these digital locations are known, does the executor have current usernames and passwords to access the information? 

There are also potential legal issues, since more state laws are unclear as to an executor's ability to gain access to a deceased individual's digital property. User agreements for online services tend to be equally murky. What about access to email accounts? Can an executor access these accounts without violating the provider's terms of use agreement? All this is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to grappling with digital assets as an executor.

Beyond the new difficulties brought by the digital era, ongoing demographic and societal changes can make the job of executor more involved than ever before. Higher divorce and remarriage rates, more families bringing together children from prior relationships and marriages, advances in reproductive technology and longer life expectancies - these trends and many more are transforming the American family, making for more multigenerational families and even more complex family arrangements. These changes can add new layers of complexity when it comes to both creating and executing an estate plan. 

Appoint a co-executor or agent to help you fulfill all responsibilities

Few individuals have the time, knowledge or wide-ranging expertise to assume all the responsibilities and liability that administrating an estate requires. But you don't have to shoulder the responsibilities alone. If you've been named executor, you may have the option to appoint co-executors who can serve alongside you, providing the required technical and investment expertise.

However, if you'd prefer to retain full control, you may be able to select an "agent" - an agent for executor - to provide expertise, support, and guidance to help you make the difficult decisions that executors face. The agent can help you balance diverse and conflicting interests, make distributions and tax filings, and can also assist with an executor's numerous administrative duties to help alleviate the burden. 

Responsibilities of an executor

An executor has a wide range of responsibilities:

  • Beneficiaries: Balance diverse and possibly conflicting interests among beneficiaries, address concerns, and make difficult decisions.
  • Paperwork: Prepare extensive paperwork. This can include simple or more complicated tasks.
  • The Will: Review and probate the will and adhere to its terms.
  • Assets: Identify, collect, value, safeguard, and manage all estate assets. This includes cash in bank accounts, contents of safety deposit boxes, household and personal effects, out-of-state property, real estate, digital assets and miscellaneous items, such as the interest of the decedent in other estates, trusts, and any pending litigation.
  • Taxes: Prepare and file all necessary estate and other tax returns and reports.
  • Debts and Expenses: Determine and pay the deceased's legitimate debts and estate expenses.
  • Distribution: Distribute the estate's assets in accordance with the terms of the will.
  • Planning: Develop tax, investment, and other planning strategies for the estate.

Complicating matters further, errors and delays can be costly. For example missed deadlines may disqualify the estate from certain tax minimization strategies and expose it to interest charges and penalties. These losses can even result in personal financial liability for the executor.

Our experienced officers in our Wealth Management & Trust department have the expertise to help you. We can either serve as your will's executor, or help guide you through the steps yourself. Click here to learn more about our team of experienced officers or call one of them today.