An executor is the person named by a testator (someone who has made a valid will) to carry out the terms of the will, ensuring that debts are paid, accounts are closed and beneficiaries receive bequests (possessions being left to others as written in a will). You may name more than one person to be executor of your will, but think carefully when choosing. Don’t, for instance, name a pair of sisters who are known to squabble incessantly to administer your estate, or your children if their relationships are precarious.
Consider naming a level-headed family friend, or a lawyer, as executor. Impartiality goes a long way towards achieving a peaceful winding up of your affairs. You also help your executor immeasurably if you die leaving your financial house in order, a comprehensive will, and a list of important personal possessions and their intended recipients. Leaving your survivors to flip coins or arm wrestle for items of sentimental value is a recipe for trouble.
It’s generally wise to ask someone if they’ll be the executor of your will, giving them the opportunity to decline. An executor is charged with carrying out his or her fiduciary duty with honesty, diligence and good judgment. Even if a person has agreed to be the executor of your will, (s)he can change (her) his mind afterwards, and even after you’ve died. For this reason, it’s prudent to name at least one alternate. You should know that if none of your named executors are willing to undertake the task when the time comes, the court will appoint one.
The law places some restrictions on who you may appoint as your executor. Your executor must be a U.S. citizen, who is a competent adult and without a felony conviction. There are various regulations with respect to naming an executor who lives in another state, which may persuade you to choose someone who lives close by. Although it shouldn’t be — and rarely is — a motivating factor, executors are paid for their work. The fee is regulated by your state’s laws and comes out of your estate.