I was named as estate executor by my father before he died. Do I have a choice in accepting the role?
This is a great question. Many people named as executor don’t realize that they can choose to accept the role — or pass on this responsibility.
Unless you are a law school graduate or probate court employee, you probably don’t know a lot about the executor role. And if you don’t know more than the bare minimum, then you probably didn’t know that the person named as the executor in a will is not required to serve in the role.
Given that you now know you have the choice, your next logical question is likely “What information do I need to make this decision?” First you will need to understand the role. We’ve already provided the basics of the role in a comprehensive article on Executor.org. Getting a realistic understanding of this role — which can encompass more than 100 steps — is fundamental to making this decision.
Next, you need to think about whether you are comfortable enough with these responsibilities to accept the role. Consider the following:
Do you have time to devote to doing the role properly?
It’s not a full-time or even a part-time job, but it does require a regular commitment as you check things off the task list. The role generally takes about a year to complete.
For those who don’t live near the decedent’s residence, travel also may be involved. Again, while not an overwhelming amount, it is a factor to consider. Do you have time to devote to attend any required court appearances, or to lead the process when the family divides the possessions in the house?
Do you trust yourself to be fair with all beneficiaries?
If you are a beneficiary of the estate in addition to serving as executor, you’ll want to think hard about this. For many people, the answer is a quick and easy, “yes.” But if you’ve always wanted the antique chest of drawers from your parents’ house, and you would do anything to get it, maybe you shouldn’t accept the role of executor. Or maybe there are some hard feelings between you and another beneficiary that might make it hard to be fair to that person. Similarly, that may prompt you to decline to serve. Remember, the executor must act in “good faith.” If it’s determined that the executor is not acting according to this standard, there can be legal repercussions.
Are you willing and able to handle disagreement or disappointment?
As executor, probably the most known area of your duties is distributing the decedent’s property according to the wishes they communicated in the will. As you might imagine, this is also the area most prone to strife. In many families there is only one set of china, only one rocking chair where all the children piled on grandma’s knee to read bedtime stories and only one diamond engagement ring. For some, while they may experience disappointment if they don’t get an object they wanted, it is not the end of the world. For others, it may set off a family feud of epic proportions.
Just as there are different reactions to the distribution of personal property, executors may react differently to these emotions. If you know the beneficiaries may be warring factions by the time the estate is closed, and you are OK with refereeing the battle, you can accept the role. But, if you know things may end badly and you don’t want to have to deal with that, you may want to decline the role.
Are you comfortable with the alternate options?
As a practical matter, someone must be appointed executor of an estate. If it’s not you, it could be another beneficiary or an outside party. If the will does not name an alternate executor, the court will appoint one. Are you comfortable with the other likely options if you choose to decline the role?
It’s ultimately up to you whether or not to accept the executor role. While the deceased named you in the will as executor, he or she would ultimately respect your decision and want you to do what’s best — for you and the estate.
Have a question about executorship? Get an answer by sending an email to [email protected].
Patrick O’Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The free tools include a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.