Thoughts on Being an Executor: The Executor’s Challenge Part I

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When my mother died in 2007, I had no idea that it would take nearly two years, as executor, to close out her estate. And she was a planner. There were not a lot of loose ends, so to speak.

I know she chose me because I am the attorney. My sister, the nurse, was the health care surrogate. It made sense. The amount of time I spent on her “simple estate” was surprising. Wrestling with paperwork, faxing documents and traveling from Florida to Texas to meet with her attorney and stockbrokers became a way of life, as I maneuvered the bureaucracy called probate.

Trying to wind up the life-long affairs of my mother required generous amounts of free time, organization and patience. My mother had everything in order, but perhaps could have simplified her plans.

It occurred to me that some of our residents have no family to help them settle their affairs after their death. Others are regrettably estranged from their families.

These situations often cause them to look to their neighbors and good friends to act as executor of their estate. In Florida, an executor is called a “personal representative.” I’ll use the more general term “executor.”

For some, this is an easy and uncomplicated process and should not be a burden to the person they have chosen. For others, they may wish they had thought harder about the time and effort required to act as the executor of an estate.

Acting as an executor has legal and fiduciary responsibilities. You are obligated to see that the wishes of the deceased are carried out and that all matters go through the process legally. For this reason, you want to make sure an attorney handles the filings and transfers of assets. Final tax returns need to be prepared and filed so you will want the services of an accountant.

Here are a few questions you might consider before you agree to act as an executor of a friend’s estate:

Do you have the time? Even when you hire an attorney to shepherd the paperwork of the will or trust, your time will be needed to gather the financial information from banks, mortgage servicers, investment firms, life insurance companies, real estate holdings and personal property like an automobile.

The contents of their home will need to be inventoried as well. If they have moved to John Knox Village, hopefully this won’t be as big an issue. But if they are still in the “family home” where they have lived for the last 35 years, it could be a gargantuan task for someone who isn’t family.

Do you have the skills? Probably the greatest skill needed is organization. Are you good at setting up files, keeping a log of phone calls to lawyers, accountants and stock brokers? If you cannot balance your own checkbook, I wouldn’t recommend that you act as an executor.

Would you call yourself a “detail person”? If not, being an executor could cause you a lot of stress. Sometimes you need to be a treasure hunter. Finding old stock certificates or forgotten safety deposit boxes come with the territory.

Next month, I will finish describing the skills you should have to be an effective executor. I hope this is helpful. As always, please feel free to come see me in the Foundation office anytime. My phone number is (954) 784-4757.

With all good wishes,

Nanette Olson, Development Director

John Knox Village Foundation