If I Don’t Want to Serve as an Executor, Do I Have to Take the Role?

Some family members are surprised when they learn that they have been named as a loved one’s executor. An executor has the responsibility of carrying out probate administration when named in a will or when appointed by the court. Many people do not realize that they have the opportunity to turn down this role if they don’t wish to serve in it.

Since there’s a lot of responsibility involved in keeping track of all the tasks of an executor, make sure it’s the right fit for you before you automatically accept.

If you are concerned about potential family conflict or what it would mean for you to take on the role of estate executor, you may wish to consult with an attorney in your area first to determine if this is an appropriate fit for you as well as the possible pros and cons. You are by no means obligated to serve in this role but do consider that if you are named and decline the role, another person will have to take on this responsibility.

If this is the same individual with whom you have conflict, you may wind up in the same boat to begin with. An executor has a fiduciary responsibility to carry out the deceased’s wishes as documented in the will or to manage the process of intestate succession which applies when a person doesn’t have a will. In either of these circumstances, you get the right to decide if this is something you wish to proceed with.

Ready to talk about setting up your own will and naming an executor? Schedule a time to meet with an estate planning lawyer now.


What Does It Mean to Be a Good Executor of an Estate?

Many people were prompted to write or update their wills in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is an important step in the estate planning process. All people will one day be asked to put those wills into effect. Those important people are known as executors or personal representatives.

These are the friends or relatives designated in a will as the final administrator of the deceased party’s estate. If you have already agreed to serve as someone’s executor, you most likely know the outlines of the various tasks that you’ll need to accomplish, including inventorying assets, closing out accounts, paying taxes, and distributing bequests. 

Even when it’s relatively simple and the person in question has done all the necessary estate planning, the paperwork can be overwhelming. But this situation can become much more complicated if someone like a widow passes away and there are many assets or children involved. Being an executor is not a simple job so the tasks that you need to keep in mind in order to stay ahead of all of these responsibilities include:

  • Talking it over in advance with a person who has named you as an executor of their will.
  • Beginning the paperwork process by taking the death certificate to the probate court.
  • Safeguarding property, such as a person’s real estate, having the locks changed and properly secured.
  • Creating a system of organization.
  • Retaining a probate attorney.
  • Preparing yourself for the possibility of conflicts.
  • Carefully distributing personal items only after all other responsibilities, such as liabilities, taxes and creditors have been addressed.     

Do you need help deciding who to appoint as the executor of your estate? Set aside time to place a call to a New Jersey estate planning attorney now to learn more.  

Can an Executor Resign After Court Appointment?

An executor can be appointed in someone’s will, but this does not obligate them to serve in this role. An executor has the opportunity to decline this chance, and when you are choosing someone as your own executor you should be clear that they want to serve in the role in the first place. You can avoid unnecessary delays for your beneficiaries by naming an executor who is aware of this appointment and is also willing to serve.

Once a will is filed with the court, an executor must be named to handle out the closing of the estate. If the will has named this person, then the court will formalize their role. At this time, if the executor does not want to serve, the proposed person can state this. Once that individual has been formally appointed as the personal representative, it becomes more difficult, although not impossible, for them to step down.

If the estate is still unsettled at the time the already-appointed executor wants to step down, a petition needs to be filed in the same probate court in which the estate was opened. A probate judge does have the discretion to reject this decision, so it’s good for the person filing this petition to have a solid reason as to why they don’t want to serve.

If probate was already opened and the executor had done some work to close out the estate, then this individual needs to provide full records of everything done up until that point, such as receipts, current balances, and notes related to any transactions made on behalf of the estate. In the vast majority of cases, you cannot be formally released until you are able to provide all of this so that the new person stepping in has everything they need.

As you can see, things can get complex when a NJ executor decides not to proceed. Although naming a family member to this role might be the easiest thing for your estate planning, it’s not always the best choice. Once you meet with your NJ estate planning lawyer, discuss how to proceed with a conversation involving your intended personal rep so that they are clear on what’s required.

How to Make Assets Easier to Find for Your Executor?

The executor or the person appointed to administer your estate will have many different responsibilities in closing out your estate, such as paying taxes, notifying creditors and informing beneficiaries about any remaining assets that must be distributed. In order to start all of these processes, however, it is essential for your executor to be able to identify all of the assets that you currently own as well as any liabilities under your name.

This can be one of the most time consuming parts of the process for an executor and it is well worth your effort to do everything you can to make it easier for them to find all of your tangible property as well as other online accounts.

By creating a personal property inventory and storing it in a location in which it will be easy for the executor to  find or receive immediately after you pass away, you can make this process much easier for the executor and also ensure that all of your assets are properly tallied up in your estate inventory to be distributed among your beneficiaries.

Although you might have a mental calculation of all of these different assets, it’s important to have this written notice because no one other than you or potentially a spouse would be able to easily locate all of these property items and account access details.

You will greatly speed up the time for which probate is required in your case by leaving behind such an inventory of assets or even directions for your probate administrator to organize and inventory all of these. Schedule a consultation today with an estate planning lawyer to learn more.



The Biggest Mistakes That Executors Make

Who you choose to serve as the executor of your personal estate is an important selection. It is one that needs to be made with careful planning and after a consultation with your estate planning lawyer. Unfortunately, executors can make mistakes in the management of your estate and this could add to additional frustration or anxiety for your loved ones after you’ve passed away. 

This is why it is essential to identify someone who is not only comfortable with managing your estate but who will also have the interest to do so. Serving as an estate executor is an important responsibility. Some of the most common mistakes associated with executors include:

  • Not understanding the probate process and failing to hire an attorney.
  • Having no clear outcome in mind such as settling with heirs, maximizing the estate value, paying off the taxes or getting peace of mind.
  • Waiting too long to market your real estate.
  • Securing and maintaining real estate without understanding the responsibilities.
  • Choosing friends instead of experienced professionals to do the right job such as a probate administration attorney.
  • Not submitting paperwork or documents in an appropriate time period.

All of these can have significant ramifications for the beneficiaries of your estate. It is important that the person you select or choose as your executor has confidence in their own abilities to manage it and has the time and interest to do so.


About an Angel: Estate Planning Lessons from Farrah Fawcett

Recently, a number of legal battles have stemmed from Farrah Fawcett’s death. Perhaps most notably, the University of Texas sued Fawcett’s partner Ryan O’Neal for taking Andy Warhol’s famed Farrah Fawcett painting from Fawcett’s home after her death. A recent article discusses what can be learned from the legal mess.

Farrah Fawcett
Farrah Fawcett (Photo credit: rocor)

Although most families do not own million dollar items such as Warhol paintings, it is not uncommon for families to get into similar legal fights concerning valuable or sentimental property left behind after a loved one dies. These fights are also common when a person gifts a piece of personal property before his or her death. Often, these gifts are inconsistent with the person’s estate planning documents, leading to a fight over whether the gift was valid.

In order to avoid similar fate, it is important to make your wishes concerning specific personal items exceedingly clear. If you are aware of a particular object that may cause fighting amongst your heirs, explain its disposition in your will. If you would like to give it away before your death, discuss the gift with your other heirs. If they understand your reasoning, they will be less likely to file suit after your death.


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Cat & Mouse: Probate Avoidance as Asset Protection

Probate is a court-supervised process through which the provisions of a person’s will are carried out. Many people choose to avoid probate by employing various estate planning tools that transfer their assets outside of their will. As a recent article explains, an additional benefit of creating non-probate transfers is that they provide a level of asset protection.

Cat & Mouse
(Photo credit: Mark Sardella)

If a person’s estate goes through probate, his or her executor will begin the process by collecting the decedent’s assets and giving notice of the death to any potential creditors. After this notice is given, the decedent’s creditors will have a specified amount of time to make any claims against the estate. The executor will have to pay these claims through the estate before distribution to the heirs.

Alternatively, certain non-probate assets such as life insurance policies, beneficiary accounts, and items held in joint tenancy pass immediately to the beneficiary or joint tenant upon the decedent’s death. Therefore, creditors are often unable to reach these assets.

Although non-probate transfers are a great way to incorporate asset protection planning into your estate plan, it is important not to use non-probate transfers specifically to avoid a particular creditor. These transfers can be undone if a court finds that the transfer was made for the sole purpose of avoiding an existing obligation to a creditor.