Summary: Should you accept the role of an estate executor? Siedentopf Law explains the qualifications under Georgia Law, the skills needed, resources available to executors, as well as other issues to consider. We also take a look at what may happen if you turn down the role.
You may be surprised to learn that a friend or family member wants you to serve as estate executor, or that you have already been named executor in someone’s will. On one hand, you might feel like it is an honor to be selected; you have the opportunity to help carry out a person’s final wishes. On the other hand, you might also feel slightly burdened by the selection and that this is an obligation to which you cannot say “no.” But there are options. Serving as an executor is up to you, and you should make your decisions based your own individual situation, as well as the overall demands of the role. Here are a few questions to consider:
Are you legally qualified to serve as an executor? Every state has its own laws and restrictions as to who can legally serve as the executor of an estate. Generally, the person has to be an adult who has not been convicted of a felony. In Georgia, the basic requirements are that the person be 18 years or older, and of a “sound mind.” (Ga. Code Ann. §§ 53-1-2, 53-6-1)
Do you have the skills needed to serve as executor? You do not have to be a financial or legal expert in order to be an executor of an estate – an average or working knowledge of finances is fine. Remember, you can always ask someone for help, such as asking the decedent’s siblings to help make phone calls or sort through personal items. You can also hire help. Executors can legally hire accountants, tax preparers, lawyers, real estate brokers, etc., to help them settle the estate. Also, executors can use estate funds to pay for these professionals; the money does not have to come out of their own pockets.
Executors do not need to have a specific set of professional skills; however, they do need to possess certain personality traits. An executor is supposed to act “in good faith” and avoid conflicts of interest. In order to do that, they should be a careful, patient, honest, fair, organized, and conscientious person who is committed to doing a good job. They need to comfortable handling disagreements, tempering emotions, and dealing with family dynamics. Additionally, an executor must have a good amount of spare time, as this role usually requires a six-month to one-year commitment (unless there are significant conflicts, which means that even more time is required). The executor might also have to take time off work as needed.
What are some other factors to consider? Every estate and every family situation is unique. You should be familiar with both, prior to agreeing to serve as an executor. For example: what is the size of the estate, where is the will located, who are the named beneficiaries, and where are the assets located? Are there any businesses you would need to manage or wrap up? The complexity of the applicable state law should also be a consideration. Fortunately, Georgia has a relatively quick and easy probate process, with lower court fees than some other states. For more information on handling family heirlooms, which may be part of the job, click HERE and HERE.
There are additional personal factors in serving as an executor, namely, your relationship with the beneficiaries and proximity to the estate. Probating a will and dividing assets can be strenuous when there are personal conflicts, so it is important to be cognizant of your involvement with the beneficiaries. Do you get along with everyone? Are there family or friends who you foresee will make the process more difficult? Also, if you live far away from the decedent’s property, you might spend a lot of time traveling back and forth. Executors also need to be willing and available to appear in court if needed. (But you can hire an attorney to help with the court process and appearances).
Concerning finances, as stated previously, the executor can use estate funds to pay for professional services. Executors are also entitled to collect payment for their services. This is a complex process; however, because executor’s fees in Georgia are calculated under a very complex statute, and you will probably need an attorney to help you with those calculations.
If you say “no” to serving as executor, what will happen? To begin, it is important to note that if you have a large stake in the outcome of the estate, then you might not want to allocate your duties to another person. Saying “no” means that someone else will be responsible for the properties and other assets that you are supposed to inherit. But, if you are firm in your decision, and do not want to serve as executor, there are a few other options: 1) If the person who wants you to be their executor is still in the estate planning process, you can always tell them that you are not interested. 2) You may be able to have a co-executor to help you settle the estate (as long as that co-executor is named in the will, or you successfully petition the court to allow a co-executor). 3) You can hire someone to help you—estate law attorneys or CPAs often offer these services. 4) You can decline the job and allow the “alternate executor” to take over (as long as one is named in the will). Or 5) If you have already started the probate process, but no longer want to serve, you can submit your resignation to the probate court, along with a written record of completed tasks, and ask that the court appoint another executor. Essentially, if you decline the role of executor, someone has to take over – whether that person is already named in the will or the court appoints someone new.
Serving as an executor of an estate is a personal decision. It is okay to say “no” and it is perfectly acceptable to ask for help. If you decide to serve as an executor, make sure you understand the complexity of the situation and have the ability and time to carry out the decedent’s final wishes. For more information about the executor role, or if you need assistance in the probate process, please visit Siedentopf Law’s website at EstateLawAtlanta.com or call (404) 736–6066.
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