A loved one has passed away, and you learn that you were named the executor of the estate. Too often, when people craft their estate plans, they never get around to asking the person they choose as their executor if they're willing to fulfill the role. Sometimes, people will agree to the responsibility and then forget all about it until the time comes.
If you learn that you've been named as an executor after someone dies, you're under no legal obligation to accept the responsibility. If the estate's grantor has named an alternate who's willing to take on the job, you're off the hook. Even if there's no alternate, the probate court will appoint someone.
Whether you're being asked to be an executor by someone who's still alive or you learn about the designation after they're gone, there some essential questions to ask yourself before you make your decision.
Do you have the time to do it?
Depending on how extensive the estate is and how many loose ends there are, being an executor can take up a good deal of your free time for at least a year. If you don't live near the property that's been left or the court you'll be dealing with, you'll also need to allow for travel time.
Will you be able to deal with the heirs and beneficiaries?
Even if the grantor of the estate outlined everything clearly, some family members may not be happy with what they're receiving -- or upset that they're getting nothing. Do you anticipate conflict or contests to the estate? If so, are you prepared to deal with that? As the executor, your obligation is to carry out the wishes of your loved one -- even if others are unhappy with those wishes.
Are you comfortable letting someone else have the responsibility?
If you believe you'd do a better job than the other person named as an alternate and/or have concerns about how that person would handle things, you may want to take on the job even if you're dreading it. If you believe that other person would handle the responsibility well -- and they're willing to do it -- you can decline with some peace of mind.
If you have questions about what administering the estate will entail, your loved one's attorney can answer them and provide guidance if you do accept the role of executor.