Many of us have accumulated assets over the years (for example, a house, a savings account, stocks and bonds, jewelry). But, what will happen to these assets after we’re gone? Who should get the house, the money, the jewelry? If you’re concerned about these matters, your best bet is to have a Will drawn up where you can specify how you want your assets distributed, and where you designate the Executor – the person or persons responsible for “settling” your estate.
Among the key things the Executor must do is to
1. identify all the assets left upon your death, and to have the value of those assets determined. For example, if you left behind a house, the Executor must get the value of your house appraised.
2. use the assets from your estate to pay all your debts and expenses, including all federal and state taxes.
3. distribute to the beneficiaries whatever assets remain after all debts and expenses have been paid.
Unfortunately, even when you leave a Will, feuds among beneficiaries may arise. Even though you’ve made your wishes known, beneficiaries may feel that the Executor is taking too long to settle the estate, or that he/she is not handling the distribution of assets correctly, or a million other things. After all, this is an emotional time; you’re gone and your assets are involved. Feuds among beneficiaries are not uncommon!
So it is advisable to consider the following. Select an Executor who is
– financially responsible. This may seem obvious, but being an Executor is a tricky business, full of minefields. Among other things, the Executor is paid by the estate for his/her time and expenses. You want to feel comfortable that your Executor is not irresponsible with money and will make good financial decisions.
– a good communicator who will be fair and who will not take sides with one beneficiary vs. another. We’ve all heard horror stories about families feuds. For example, designating your spouse, the step-mother to your children, may cause hard feelings between the kids and their stepmother. Similarly, designating one of the children as your Executor may cause issues for the other children. Things may get so bad that your kids end up in court fighting over the estate. Making all the kids Co-Executors may be just as bad. Too many cooks can spoil the brew and too many opinions may end up in fights and delays. Sometimes your best option is to select a relative outside your immediate family, a trusted friend, or a professional or institution (such as an accountant, an attorney, a bank or trust company).
– well organized, comfortable with paperwork, and able to work with others (for example, working with an accountant or attorney on estate tax issues). The Executor is responsible for managing your estate from start to finish. A lot must get done. It’s not unusual for the whole process to take a year or more. Having a well-organized person overseeing the entire process helps insure that your wishes are carried out expediently and that your beneficiaries aren’t left waiting for longer than necessary.
Of course, you must make sure the person or institution you select is willing and able to take on the responsibility. Before designating anyone as Executor, check to see that he/she agrees to do so. And, in addition to naming an Executor, you should also name a Successor Executor in your Will. If something unforeseen happens to your designated Executor, the Successor Executor will assume the Executor role.
Selecting the right Executor may make all the difference in whether or not your estate is settled efficiently and satisfactorily for all involved. When working with an attorney on your Will, be sure to discuss your various options, including what costs the estate will incur if you select a professional or a company (such as an attorney or trust company) to serve as the Executor.
Getting Legal Help
Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A Goodman, can work with you to meet your needs and those of your loved ones. Contact us today at 973-841-5111.
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