By Tom White, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2018
One of the more thankless positions a person may find him or herself in is being the Executor (or executrix) of a will. This is not a position that requires any formal training or legal education. However, as complex property issues can arise, the need to consult a lawyer is relatively common.
The role of executor is an awkward one. It demands that you carry out the wishes of a document that you likely had no part in writing, all the while dealing with the personalities of various family members trying to get their hands on their inheritance. Being that this position requires the ability to juggle personalities whilst being studious about dealing with the will’s demands, the selection of a proper executor is incredibly essential.
Many are quick to select close family members or friends as executors. The selection of a family member may seem like the obvious choice to some, and many would not consider any alternative. However, there are probably times when a third party, unrelated to the family, might be in the better position to execute a will properly. I bring this up because I once watched a family member deal with the troubles of being an executor.
The will in question required the selling of a home owned by the decedent before the rest of the assets of the will could be distributed. Unfortunately, the house did not sell quickly, and this executor was left with the task of dealing with both real estate agents and contractors for months. All this time, he was also dealing with mounting pressures from other members named in the will wanting their settlement. These family members used emotional appeals on the executor until he finally fronted the beneficiaries the money out of the decedent’s savings.
This would have been a situation, I believe, in which a third party like a bank or a trust company would have been better suited to deal with the will. A third party will not be as likely to succumb to the emotional pressure of being an executor and handling family members. Meaning, when it comes to selecting an executor, the drafter of the will needs to be honest with himself and ask if he can foresee conflict in which demands will be made that strain the familial balance. If the answer is yes, he should turn to resources like the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) which has a directory listing qualified attorneys or other organizations who can help in these matters.