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Plan Carefully When Choosing Your Executor

One important decision you will need to make when writing your will is selecting an estate executor. Ideally, your executor should possess the tact of a diplomat and the administrative skills of a professional executive. You may want to choose someone who knows you and your family well enough to faithfully carry out your wishes, but who also has the necessary objectivity to handle any conflicts that may arise.

Although any person you trust can be your executor, many people choose a spouse, close friend, or associate, who may also be a beneficiary of the estate. Large estates may require two executors: a personal representative to interpret your wishes and a professional representative or institution, such as your attorney or a bank, to make business or financial decisions, pay taxes, and maintain records.

An executor’s role is to carry out the terms of your will. This process begins with identifying and determining the value of the assets in your estate. (Trusts, life insurance policies, pension plans, and some types of jointly owned property may fall outside the executor’s responsibility.) Certain assets may require a valuation by an appraiser, whose fee is generally paid from your estate’s assets, as are expenses for lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. An executor is also responsible for paying your debts from the assets of your estate, filing tax returns, and distributing any remaining assets to your heirs.

Throughout this process, detailed records must be kept. Most probate courts will require a comprehensive, detailed account of all money received, spent, or held by your estate.

If you die without a will (intestate), the court will appoint an administrator to perform the executor’s duties. Without a designated relative or beneficiary, the appointee may or may not be someone you would have named.

When choosing an executor, be sure that the person is willing to accept the responsibility. You may also wish to choose an alternate executor to serve should your initial choice be unable to do so. If you have not yet chosen your executor, consider doing so as soon as possible to minimize potential complications later.

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