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Choosing an executor for your estate

On Behalf of | Jun 24, 2024 | Estate Planning |

One of the steps involved in setting up an estate plan in New York is choosing an executor for your estate. An executor is someone you appoint to carry out the terms of your will after you pass away.

An executor has many duties and responsibilities. They are responsible for managing your estate, which includes identifying and valuing your assets, tracking down all your debts and distributing your assets to heirs.

If it is necessary to file a final tax return, the executor does that as well. The executor must also represent the estate in any legal proceedings, such as will contests between heirs or any challenges to the will’s validity.

Legal requirements

As with most states, an executor in New York must meet certain legal requirements in order to be eligible for the role, but these requirements are not terribly strict. For instance, an executor must be 18 or older and must be “of sound mind.” This generally means that they have not been legally declared incompetent.

Outside of these requirements, it is up to you to choose your executor. You can choose a friend, family member or trusted professional, such as a financial advisor or attorney.

If you are already thinking that serving as an executor sounds like a huge responsibility, you are correct. A good executor has several traits that you should look for when choosing.

The executor should be someone you trust handling your financial affairs. You should have no doubts about the executor’s honesty or loyalty and trust that they will not run off with your money or assets.

Organization and availability

Some financial literacy and good organizational skills are desirable traits of an executor. Serving as an executor involves handling large volumes of documents and keeping them organized to accomplish the necessary tasks.

Serving as an executor involves a major time commitment. You should choose someone who you expect to be available to put in the necessary time.

Additionally, select an executor who you expected to be around when you pass away. You may naturally want to select your spouse as your executor, but there is a chance they may pass away before you.

While an executor is not required or expected to have any legal knowledge, it helps if they have a basic understanding of the New York probate process. They will need to file your will with the local probate court and file paperwork with the court during the process.

When their role is complete, they will need to close out the estate with the court. Knowing how basic legal proceedings work is helpful.

Choosing a backup executor

You may appoint a backup executor if you wish and this is usually a good idea. If something happens to your chosen executor and or circumstances change and they are no longer able to serve in the role, your backup executor takes over.

The alternative is the court appointing someone as an executor, which does not always have the best results. The court’s chosen executor could be someone you would never have chosen and it increases the chances of estate litigation if your heirs do not agree with the court’s choice.