If you’re the eldest sibling in the family, or deemed to be the “most responsible”; if you’re seen to be a good friend by someone; or a fine upstanding citizen by others, chances are you will be asked to be an executor of someone’s will.
After you’ve enjoyed the warm feeling of being wanted, just pause for a moment and take stock of what it really means to assume this most important role.
You need to be aware that when the person dies, you will be required to spend a significant amount of time executing your responsibilities – and these can be onerous.
The actual functions will vary from one situation to another and, to some extent, depend on the surviving family members. However, the legally defined duties of the executor include:
- Arranging the funeral;
- Determining the assets and liabilities of the estate;
- Applying to the court for probate, if required;
- Determining what assets may need to be sold to pay outstanding debts – this may be defined in the will or by established legal definitions;
- Arranging the sale of all assets which are not to be directly transferred to the beneficiaries – including the home, investments, business interests and personal chattels;
- Lodging tax returns for the estate and the deceased;
- Paying the debts;
- Publishing a notice that you intend to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries;
- Distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will.
For all this you may find yourself in the middle of family disputes and even subject to legal action from a dissatisfied beneficiary or creditor. If placed in this position, the executor needs to be able to manage his or her responsibilities as impartially as possible.
The executor can be held personally liable if a beneficiary suffers financial loss as a result of the executor’s actions or inaction, and in some instances, be legally liable for any losses incurred.
If, after considering all of this, you don’t think you can honour the person’s request and fulfill the role appropriately, it might be best to decline the offer.
If you’re feeling bad about not accepting, you could suggest that your friend or relative engages a professional executor in the form of a trustee company (or public trustee) or firm of solicitors or a trusted adviser, but beware this could come at a significant additional expense. However, this should ensure the executor outlives the person making the will.