A last will and testament (“will”) is an important legal document for anyone who wants to ensure that their “estate” (such as financial assets, personal belongings, etc.) is distributed to their beneficiaries according to their wishes when they die. A key step in preparing a will is selecting an executor of the estate or estate representative (“executor”) who will ensure that the deceased person’s last wishes are carried out and their financial affairs are settled.

Whether you’re choosing someone to be the executor of your estate or you’ve been named executor of someone else’s, here are six things you should know.


 An executor should be someone who’s trustworthy, financially responsible, organized and respected by the beneficiaries.


1. What does an executor do?

An executor of estate (also called “executor of the will”) takes over the management of a person’s assets after they die. This may include:

  • Getting copies of the death certificate.
  • Notifying beneficiaries, creditors and other applicable parties about the person’s death.
  • Filing a copy of the will with the local probate court, which oversees the handling of estates.
  • Paying off any debts.
  • Filing their tax return.
  • Distributing probate assets to the beneficiaries.
2. What makes a good executor?

An executor should be someone who’s trustworthy, financially responsible, organized and respected by the beneficiaries. It helps if they live in the area, are likely to be in good health when the person passes away, and aren’t overwhelmed with other responsibilities like caregiving or an overly demanding job.

People often name their spouse or an adult child as executor of their estate, but sometimes a professional such as an attorney or accountant is named. An executor should not have a criminal record or be under 18 years old, and many courts will not allow someone with poor credit or liens against them to be in the role.

Before you name someone as the executor of your estate, it’s a good idea to ask them if they’re willing to do it. It’s a big job, and you want to ensure they are up to the task.

3. What if you don’t want to be an estate executor?

Being the executor of a loved one’s estate can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, and it’s OK to say no. If you don’t want to accept the role, you can ask the person to name someone else executor in their will. If they’ve already passed away, you can ask the probate court judge to assign the responsibilities to someone else, or you can hire a legal professional to help you with duties you’re struggling with.

4. What information should an executor have?

Because the executor will be responsible for the estate’s assets, it’s important for that person to have the following information about the deceased:

  • Banks and account numbers
  • Credit cards and other lenders
  • Insurance policies
  • Social Security number
  • Employer or former employer where benefits or retirement may be due
  • Property details (vehicle registration and titles, mortgages, etc.)
  • Utilities
  • Online accounts, digital assets and passwords (Facebook, PayPal, etc.)

If you’re preparing your will, you may want to meet with the person you’ve selected as executor to make sure they know where to find this information. If you’ve been named the executor of someone’s estate, it’s a good idea to ask them to go over these things with you so you’re prepared in advance.

5. What happens when there’s no executor?

If someone dies without naming an executor in their will, or if the executor is unavailable or unable to serve and there is no contingent or successor executor, a probate court may appoint someone else to be what’s called the “administrator” of the estate. That person may volunteer and ask the court to approve them, or if no one comes forward, the court may reach out to someone (usually a close relative) and ask them to serve in the role.

6. Does an executor get paid?

Yes, executors are often paid by the estate for their work, and the amount may vary depending on state law and whether the will mentions compensation. The executor may receive a percentage of the estate value, an hourly rate or a flat fee. Sometimes the probate judge determines the compensation amount.

Know what’s involved

Serving as the executor of an estate is an important and often time-intensive job. The process can take up to a year or more to complete. Before you name someone as your executor or accept the role yourself, make sure you know what it involves. Probate attorneys and other financial professionals can provide additional information to help you make an informed decision.


Additional reading:

Term vs. perm: Which life insurance is right for me?

Life insurance beneficiary? Here’s how to collect your death benefit

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