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Selecting an Executor

Your will should include the name of your personal representative, usually called an executor, who is charged with carrying out the wishes you express. Many individuals automatically name their spouse or oldest child without giving the matter much thought. The role of the executor, however, is much more demanding than most people realize. A thoughtful selection is essential.

Upon your death, your executor assumes an important legal responsibility that may last several years. An executor must assemble and value estate assets, pay necessary taxes, distribute estate assets to beneficiaries, and supply a full accounting for his or her actions in connection with carrying out the terms of your will.

The executor also may be called upon to handle potentially challenging family relationships. In the case of blended families, for example, resentment and conflict may arise if assets are not divided equally. No matter how awkward or unpleasant, however, the executor is obliged to follow instructions outlined in your will.

Most important, the executor assumes an important fiduciary responsibility. He or she is responsible for the correct financial management of estate assets while the terms of your will are carried out. This may involve the sale of certain assets to pay taxes or even burial expenses. And if your estate includes a small business, for example, the executor is responsible for its ongoing management while your affairs are being settled. In addition, the executor is required by law to post a surety bond equal to the value of your estate.

Complex responsibilities like these may be a lot to ask - even of a family member.

Naming a Professional Executor

Especially if settling your estate is likely to be a complicated or lengthy affair, you may wish to consider the benefits of a professional executor. Naming a bank trust department or other professional fiduciary means that you can rely on an experienced, impartial third party to carry out your wishes, always working in the best interests of your estate and beneficiaries.

In addition, in many states professional estate settlement removes the necessity of posting a surety bond.

Reviewing Your Existing Will

Your will may be changed as often as you wish. If the change you desire is relatively simple, an amendment to the document, known as a codicil, is executed with the aid of an attorney. If you decide to write a new will altogether, the new document should specifically revoke all prior wills. (Remember that revoking a will automatically revokes its codicils, but revoking a codicil does not necessarily revoke a will.)

In addition, you should review your will when any of the following events occur:

  • a change in marital status;
  • the birth of a child;
  • a change in your state of residence;
  • a significant change in the value or character of your assets;
  • a change in intended beneficiaries;
  • the death of a beneficiary;
  • the death of a guardian, trustee, or personal representative named in your will;
  • a change in tax laws affecting federal estate tax deductions and calculations;
  • once every five years.

If you believe a change to your will is necessary you should consult an attorney who is familiar with the probate code of the state in which you live. He or she will know how best to comply with various state requirements.

Next > Estate Planning Checklist

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