Do you know the pros and cons of handling an estate for someone?
You have to ask questions before they agree to be an executor. Otherwise you can fall into a well of trouble. This is how I explained it to Jay.
Jay had a problem and was in my law office asking for help. He wasn’t asking about his own estate planning. He wanted to talk about estate executors. Jay had already named an executor to manage his estate. So I was not sure why he needed my help.
“I need help for my neighbour, Tim,” Jay said.
I asked, “How could I help Tim if he’s not here?”
“Well, actually, I need the help. Tim begged me to act as his executor. He said he could not find anyone who would do the job. Tim said he had put off making his will for that reason. He said he was hoping to make a will and then go on a trip to Rome. I felt sorry for him. So when he asked me last week, I said I’d be his executor.”
“So you want to know what an executor must do?”
“No”, Jay said, “I want a good reason to tell Tim I changed my mind. Tim is going to see his lawyer to make his will. How can I tell Tim I don’t want to act as his executor? He will have to find someone else.”
Valid Reasons to Refuse To Be an Executor
“Well,” I asked, “what made you change your mind?”
“Normal is not a word you would use to describe Tim’s relatives. His family is dysfunctional. They are still fighting in court over their father’s estate. Tim’s father died 3 years ago. Tim is suing his sister for stealing his father’s money with a power of attorney.”
I said, “Yes, that can happen in any family. I can tell you that from experience.”
Information to have before you say “Yes”
As an executor, you must consider factors that may be outside of your control:
1. Will you deal with people who have difficult relationships and personalities? They can make it impossible for you to do your job.
2. What types of estate assets must you handle and where are they located (Arizona or Alberta)?
3. How much time will be required and what skills are required?
Getting proper estate legal advice is crucial
You may have handled estate work as an estate executor before. But know this: each estate has different challenges. You better get advice from an experienced estate lawyer. The more knowledgeable you are, the more likely you can avoid problems.
Here are the questions to ask before you say yes:
Good Reasons not to act as executor
1. Are there other suitable executor choices available or an alternate executor named?
2. Do the estate assets need professional management (complex estate assets or a business)?
3. Does your age and health allow you to make the time commitment?
4. Will there be possible family squabbles?
5. Will you need to hold onto property long term (until someone is 21)?
6. Can you distribute the estate outright within 2 years?
7. How much time and energy will you need to commit?
8. Is the estate liquid? Does it have enough money to pay bills and taxes on time?
9. Will you be afraid to use estate money to pay for professional advice?
10. Will you spend time traveling because estate assets are spread out in many locations?
11. Are there assets that need extra time and attention (art, collections or antiques)?
12. Will you have difficulty finding financial records?
13. Are there outstanding years of income taxes that have not been filed?
14. Are creditors knocking on the door looking for payment?
15. Are there digital assets with no records?
16. Was there possible power of attorney abuse to investigate?
17. Can you quickly find the original will?
18. Are there complicated tax or foreign tax issues?
19. Do you have to clear the house of twenty years of hoarded items?
20. Can the estate afford to hire a person to prepare the necessary tax filings?
21. Will you have problems with co-executors who will not cooperate?
22. Will a family member file a claim against the estate?
I told Jay that being an executor is not easy and to be honest with Tim. Tim could get the best advice from his lawyer about choosing executors.
Are you looking for help too? Then you may enjoy my upcoming Kindle ebook “Choosing Executors”. Go to my website MrWills.com for more information about when it will be available.
Read another post: What Executors Can Do To Be Happy
About Edward Olkovich
I am a Toronto estate lawyer, author and a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. I edit Carswell’s legal guide “Compensation and Duties of Estate Trustees, Guardians and Attorneys.” I have handled estate disputes and probate problems since 1978. © 2015