Preparing a will is a matter of great importance so that you can be sure your estate will be handled exactly as you wish it to be. Part of that preparation includes naming someone (or multiple people, depending on the estate’s needs) to be the executor. This is a vital part of developing a will because that person will be tasked with making sure your requests are honored after your death. Consequently, assigning the right person to this role is as important as drawing up the will. Here’s what you need to consider.

What Does the Executor to the Will Do?

The executor is the person(s) who will manage the financial affairs listed in the will after the estate’s owner passes away. If any or all of the matters in the will require it to go through probate court, the executor will oversee that, usually hiring a lawyer for assistance. These are some of the responsibilities of the executor:

  • Identify and locate all the estate’s assets.
  • Identify and pay any remaining debts and taxes.
  • Notify all relevant parties and entities, including Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, post office, and other organizations, as well as family members and friends.
  • Open and manage an estate bank account, to which things like stock dividends will be deposited until the stock or other income-earning mechanisms are transferred to the inheritors. This account is also used to pay ongoing bills, such as mortgage payments, while the estate is being finalized.
  • Oversee the disbursement of the assets to the inheritors.
  • Finalize all related matters of the estate.

What Factors Should I Consider When Choosing an Executor?

Given how vital the role of the executor is, it’s critical to find the right person. There are several things to consider when making a selection. First, check with your state, as each state has a few requirements that can vary from state to state. In California, an executor must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind (meaning they aren’t deemed mentally incapacitated by a court). Unlike California, most states don’t allow convicted felons to be executors.

  • Trust. This is an enormous factor. Can you trust the person you choose to be the executor to follow your wishes to the best of your ability? Can you trust them not to try to subvert the will for their own gain? Do they have long-standing animosity toward one or more of the inheritors to such an extent that they might try to cause someone not to receive their stipulated inheritance, such as siblings who have had a falling-out?
  • Patience. Depending on the estate’s size and complexity, finalizing it can take months or even years. 
  • Attention to detail. This is somewhat tied with patience in that someone who’s impatient and in a hurry to get things done could make sloppy mistakes that end up slowing the process or even costing the estate money to fix. 
  • Someone in good financial standing. If someone is in financial trouble, putting them in charge of an estate could be a mistake. 
  • Age. You can have one person be the executor or multiple people, but make sure at least one person is younger than you are. It’s not a guarantee they won’t become unable to serve before your death, but the odds are better.

Will the Executor Be Paid?

They can be. If the estate is large and complex, it could be a good thing to do. The executor would be paid out of the estate itself. In California, an executor can be paid a specific percentage of the value of the estate.

Can I Change the Executor Once the Will Is Finalized?

Yes. If a change of situation or trust level with the original executor leaves you wanting to change the executor, you can. In California, there are two options for this: rewriting the entire will or using a codicil. If the executor for the entire will is to be changed, redoing the will is the best approach. But if you’re only amending the executor for a small part of the will, that can more easily be done with a codicil.

How Can I Get Help Setting Up My Will?

Call us at 949-260-1400 to work with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys. Our Orange County, California attorneys can help you determine the best candidates to be executor(s) for your will and make sure the will is legally sound.