When your mom passes away with a valid Will and property being transferred by that Will, the Will is submitted to the Court who appoints an estate representative to wrap up her final affairs. This person or company – almost always named in the Will – is known as the Executor, and has the ability to do everything that your mom could do during her life: Collect her assets, pay creditors, review all of mom’s financial records and statements, file income tax returns, order her medical records, distribute her property as mom’s Will states, and even clean out mom’s closet (which she likely neglected to do before she died since, you know, she’s now dead). We say an Executor “steps into your shoes”.
Clearly being named an Executor is a big deal. So, if mom gave you the honor of being named as her Executor, what are some of the reasons you may want to turn this down?
- The Estate Has No Money / Only Debts: There is no reason to Probate a “broke” estate unless it may receive money in the future (such as a lawsuit). But once you sign up to start the process you may get stuck trying to figure out how to pay all the estate’s debts. Don’t do this.
- The Decedent Was a Hoarder: While hoarding is clearly a mental illness, dealing with a hoarder’s residence may cause you actual physical illness. Hoarders come in many shapes and sizes, such as the “Just a TON of paperwork here” variety, or the “Cat is dead somewhere in this apartment, not sure where since the smell wore off” type. Even if estate assets are somewhat-significant, rummaging through a hoarder’s paperwork may be a foolish investment of your time and a regretted test of your immune system.
- The Beneficiaries Are a Group of Punks: I suppose I could have used a more-apropos term than “Punks” (frankly, I would gladly serve as Executor if Billy Idol or the Sex Pistols were beneficiaries), but I think you can get the idea. Whether beneficiaries are nasty, needy, desperate or litigious, the honor bestowed upon you being named as an Executor in someone’s Will may instead feel like a crown of flaming spikes if beneficiaries are going to be difficult.
- You Are Too Busy / Tired / Sick: There is likely more work involved with being an Executor than you may know. The truth is you never go through enough Probates to get good at it – you probably only do it once for your second parent to die and another time if your spouse dies before you – so it is difficult to gauge the time commitment up-front. And don’t rely on an attorney to be entirely accurate with an approximation of this time commitment: Every estate is different and may have several unforeseen traps and nuances not apparent until well-along the path of Probating the Will.
- If You Disagree with the Will: If your mom named you as Executor then named your Commie anti-vaxer sister as sole beneficiary to the Will don’t bother acting as Executor. When you agree to serve as Executor the Court requires you to sign an oath stating you must follow-through with what the Will says. If you plan on contesting the Will, or if it is being used as a giant middle finger to your relationship with the decedent then don’t bother getting involved.
Clearly this list isn’t inclusive, and it often inures to your benefit to serve as Executor if there is a Will dispute. But don’t just say “Yes”, or you may end up spending your future Executor Commission on anger management therapy.