You’ve Been Named a Will’s Executor. Now What?

Will’s Executor
Marla Brill

By Marla Brill | Apr 8th, 2018

Being named as the executor of a will is an enormous honor. But it is also an enormous responsibility that can involve significant time and emotional fortitude in the tumultuous period following the death of a loved one.

A will’s executor is expected to carry out the terms of a will. The role can range from a relatively simple one to a complex nightmare, depending on the estate plan and the cooperation of family members and other beneficiaries. In some cases, executors report that tying up all the loose ends is akin to having a second job. In others, it’s a fairly simple and smooth process.

Things get more complex and lengthy when the estate must go through probate, which is more likely to happen when the second parent dies or inheritance wishes are unclear. The most pressing duties, such as obtaining death certificates, preparing the estate’s tax return, selling a house and other assets, or standing in line at probate court, often require many hours of work that could string out over weeks, months, or even years. There are also the emotional challenges of making decisions that may be met with enthusiastic approval, or steaming resentment, from family members.

READ ALSO: How to Approach Estate Planning Discussions With Aging Parents

Although I’ve never been an executor myself, I remember the difficulty my father had when he was named executor of his mother’s estate. After she died, he had to deal with numerous late night phone calls from a brother who wanted to get his share of the assets all at once rather than gradually, as her will had designated. After the money ran out, the phone calls stopped and they became estranged. Estate disagreements involving famous people may grab headlines, but those involving everyday people like my dad can be just as contentious and draining.

Know What’s Involved

While there’s no sure way to head off family debates over asset distribution, knowing what’s involved with being an executor can help prepare you to take on the responsibilities, stay in front of potential family entanglements, or even decide whether or not to become an executor in the first place.

Below is a brief list of just some of an executor’s typical responsibilities:

Prepare for the Worst

Even with the broad scope of responsibilities, there are things you can do to make fulfilling the role of executor easier.

Although as an executor you need not have specialized knowledge of taxes or estate law, you should be able to admit what you don’t know and seek outside help from accountants, attorneys, and other professionals when necessary. And as awkward as it may be, you might gently suggest that someone else take on the role of executor if you lack the time, organizational skills, or desire to fulfill it effectively.

Marla Brill

Marla Brill

Marla Brill has been a personal finance journalist for over 30 years,  writing about money topics for Reuters, The Boston Globe, Financial Advisor Magazine, MarketWatch, PBS’s NextAvenue, and other publications.


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