When most people think about the decisions they must make when creating their Last Will and Testament, they focus on decision relating to the divisions and distributions of their estate assets. One of the most important decisions you must make when creating your Will, however, has nothing directly to do with dividing your estate. Deciding who to appoint as the Executor of a Will, however, is a decision that will have a direct impact on the efficiency with which the estate is probated when the time comes. That, in turn, will directly impact the beneficiaries of the estate. Therefore, if you are creating your Will, it is important that you take the time necessary to appoint the right person as the Executor of your Will.
Take the Time to Consider Your Choice
Unfortunately, most people take very little time to think about the matter when they decide who to appoint as the Executor in their Last Will and Testament. Instead of thinking about the appointment, they simple fill in the name of a spouse, friend, or family member without giving the matter much thought at all. The primary reason for this is that most people have no real idea what the Executer of a Will actually does. Once you learn what the duties and responsibilities of the Executor are, you will hopefully have the incentive you need to spend some quality time deciding who to appoint as the Executor of your Will.
Duties and Responsibilities of the Executor of a Will
Understanding exactly what the job of Executor of a Will entails should help you to choose the right person for the job. The most common duties and responsibilities include:
- Opening Probate — if the Executor has an original copy of the Will he/she is required by law to present the Will to the appropriate court and initiate the probate process.
- Identifying, Locating, and Valuing Assets – the Executor must identify all the estate assets and then figure out which ones are probate assets. Estate assets include all real and personal property as well as all tangible and intangible assets. Because not all assets are required to go through the probate process, an Executor must figure out which assets are non-probate assets and which are not. Once all probate assets have been identified and located the Executor must determine a Date of Death (DoD) value for each asset. The court may also require the Executor to prepare an inventory of all estate assets along with the DoD values.
- Notifying Creditors — the Executor is also required to notify all creditors of the estate that the probate process is underway. Known creditors are notified personally while unknown creditors must be notified by publishing notice of the probate in a local newspaper. Creditors of the estate then have a statutory period of time within which they must file a claims against the estate. Those claims are then reviewed by the Executor and approved or denied and approved claims are paid out of estate assets. If insufficient liquid assets exist to pay approved claims the Executor must sell estate assets in order to raise the necessary funds.
- Estate Litigation – if someone files a Will contest, the Executor is responsible for defending the Will throughout the ensuing litigation. The entire probate process effectively comes to a halt while the Will contest is litigated because the outcome determines what happens next.
- Filing and Paying Taxes — Before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries or heirs of the estate, all federal and/or state gift and estate taxes must be paid. Therefore, the Executor is responsible for preparing and filing all necessary tax forms and paying any tax debt owed to the state or federal government. This may also require the sale of estate assets if sufficient liquid assets are not available. An error in the calculation of tax liabilities, or a failure to file on time, can be extremely detrimental to the estate’s value.
- Transferring Assets to Beneficiaries and/or Heirs – after all taxes have been paid, and a final inventory filed with the court, the Executor must prepare any documents, or take any steps, necessary to effectuate the legal transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries or heirs of the estate.
Given all these duties and responsibilities it is clear that your choice of Executor can, and often does, has a direct impact on how smoothly your estate gets through the probate process – so take the time to choose wisely!
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the Executor of a Will, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.