Estate Planning: 3 Things to Know About Being an Executor

Closeup of older sick man signing his will with two people by his bedside.Let's continue on our January-back-to-basics series, as we focus on the role of the executor. An executor is a person or entity you choose to carry out your last wishes outlined in your will. Your executor should be someone you trust is responsible enough to manage your estate after you pass away. (Please keep in mind: This is a person who only acts once you have passed. Naming a person as your executor does not mean they become your agent on a power of attorney or similar document. The author has witnessed this confusion in other situations, so it is best to clear it up at the outset).

Choosing an executor is a big decision when it comes to estate planning. So, what should I know about an executor? What should I consider before naming an executor? Here are answers to three common questions about executors.

Can an Executor Decide Who Gets What?

No. In most circumstances, an executor cannot decide who gets what property. Executors are responsible for carrying out the testator’s wishes as outlined in the will.

However, if the testator (the person who made the will) did not distribute all their assets in their will, the executor may be able to decide how to distribute the unassigned property.

Can an Executor of a Will Be a Beneficiary?

Yes. An executor can also be a beneficiary of the will. It is common for people to have their surviving spouse or children act as the executor of their estate. This choice can be cost-effective if you have a small or simple estate.

Another benefit of having a family member act as the executor of your estate is they are familiar with your wishes. They know you, and they understand how you want your assets divided. If you forget to state where property goes in your will, an executor that knows you well is more likely to give those assets to the correct beneficiaries.

How Long Does the Executor Have to Pay the Beneficiaries?

The short answer is: It depends. The executor should work diligently to get each beneficiary paid as soon as possible.

While the executor is responsible for ensuring beneficiaries receive the money or property they were left in the will, the probate process may delay beneficiaries from receiving a payout. Depending on the size of the estate and the debts and taxes the estate owes, it may take anywhere from six months to more than one year for a beneficiary to receive an inheritance.

The probate process varies depending on the state, but the typical process goes like this:

  • Submit the Will for Probate — Part of the executor’s responsibility to the estate is to file the will with the probate court. Filing the will begins the probate process. Once completed, the beneficiaries are one step closer to receiving their inheritance. The time executors have to file a will with the probate court varies by state.
  • File an Inventory — An inventory of estate assets is required. As part of an inventory, the executor determines the total value of all estate property, money, and other assets. A completed inventory can then be used by the executor to determine whether federal or state taxes apply, or whether assets will be used to settle debts.
  • Pay Taxes and Debts — Before the executor can distribute any assets to beneficiaries, estate debts and taxes must be paid. The executor is responsible for ensuring these payments are made.

Contact an Attorney

Creating an estate plan doesn't have to be overwhelming. With the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can ease some of the anxieties you may be facing when thinking about estate planning. At Linville Law Office, PLLC, we are ready to help. We are conveniently located in south Charlotte for in-office or virtual meetings. Give us a call today.

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