Should you accept the "Executor" Role?

Courtesy of Invesco, Posted 28 Oct 2014

At some point in your lifetime you may be approached by a friend or a family member to act as an executor of that person's estate. While it may be flattering, you should nevertheless pause for a moment and think carefully before deciding to accept this very important role. You are entrusted with responsibility of administering an estate by carrying out the wishes of the testator ( the individual in whose name and request the Will is created) as expressed in the Will.

Although potentially rewarding - both emotionally and financially - being an executor can also be complicated and time-consuming. Before you decide to take on this role, give some thought to the following:

  1. Potential complexity of the estate
    Estate administration has become increasingly complex. For example, the estate may involve assets in different countries, beneficiaries from different marriages, and/or sophisticated investment and business interests. It's a good idea to make sure you understand these parameters before accepting.
  2. Your availability and willingness
    Depending on the circumstances, your responsibilities as an executor may continue over a period of years. This is especially true if you have also been called upon to act as a trustee for trusts created in a Will. As an executor or trustee, you are required to carry out all duties personally, though you can and likely should hire appropriate professionals where required. Beyond that, you are generally not permitted to delegate your responsibilities. Accordingly, make sure you have enough time, energy, and ability to devote to this serious task.
  3. Your knowledge in business, investments, and tax matters
    As an executor, you may be called upon to exercise your business judgement and knowledge, as well as making investments on behalf of the estate, minimizing the taxes payable by the estate, and filing estate tax returns. You can and should retain the services of financial, legal, and tax professionals, but you should also be comfortable enough in dealing with such matters as you have the ultimate responsibility for monitoring and approving the professionals' recommendations.
  4. Your ability to deal with beneficiaries
    Perhaps the most difficult task is dealing with the family and interpersonal politics that can arise in the course of estate administration. Executors are often called upon to make decisions that have financial consequences for beneficiaries and for the estate, and that require you to strike a delicate balance among various beneficiaries and their competing interests. Be prepared to act impartially, objectively, and to mitigate the potential for conflict and hostility.

Although executorship is very serious and potentially time-consuming, it can be very gratifying to achieve the testator's final wishes as they would have seen fit.