A good friend or family member has asked you to serve as executor of their estate. Should you be flattered, or fearful?
One thing that’s not in question: serving as executor (or Personal Representative, as it’s called in Florida) is an important and demanding job.
Your friend or family member wants someone she can trust, someone with good judgment, and if she knows what the job entails, probably someone who can keep track of multiple details, meet deadlines, multitask, instill calm in the midst of chaos, smooth ruffled feathers, and adjudicate family fights.
But if you knew what was involved, you might not be so willing to serve as executor of someone’s estate. It’s a big job.
A recent study found that, on average, it takes almost 16 months to settle an estate, with large estates taking almost three times as long.
That breaks down to 570 hours of work, on average (that’s why executors have the right to be paid a fee for their work).
“The more valuable the estate, the more effort required,” says WealthManagement.com.
Of course, relying on professional help makes the process easier. For larger or more complex estates, a smart executor might pull together a team consisting of an estate planning attorney, tax preparer, and investment advisor. They might also need a realtor (to sell any real estate properties), as well as professionals to appraise and sell tangible property; pack and distribute assets; and clean and prep real estate prior to sale.
While some estates work like a charm, others are vexed with deep family conflicts and even litigation.
If you’re drafting your estate documents, make sure to use an attorney specializing in estate planning. Mistakes can be extremely costly and won’t be discovered until after your death, when it’s often too late to fix things. Years ago, I handled trusts and estates for a large bank, and saw way too many people harmed by bad planning or even worse, no planning.
Make sure your named executors and trustees are ready, willing and able to serve. We’ve seen cases where the named executor had no clue he’d been nominated for the job, and declined to serve, creating turmoil when the family needed it least.
If you’re settling an estate, get back-up from competent legal and professional advice. They can help you move along on schedule, protect your back, and resolve any snags. One of the families we worked with in my banking days was ready to start World War III as they argued over how to divvy up some seemingly useless knickknacks. A clever appraiser on our team came up with a system to apportion the goodies that left all parties feeling satisfied and fairly served. Whew!
If you were well-acquainted with the decedent and his or her wishes, you can definitely add value to a difficult and stressful process by serving as executor. Just know that you are taking on a real job that requires real commitment. Your communication skills will be in high demand, as you ensure that all parties remain in the loop, and feel like they are getting a fair shake.
One last point. Everyone who goes through the process of handling an estate swears they learn something very valuable. When it’s their turn, they say they are definitely going to do it differently.