6 minute read

How to Appoint an Executor for Your Will

Choosing the right executor is almost just as important as creating your will. Get the information you need to appoint an executor with this guide.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Are you putting off creating your Estate Plan because you can’t decide who you want to appoint as Executor? You’re not alone. In fact, many people feel exactly like you do. It’s a lot of pressure to put a comprehensive Estate Plan together. You want to put a plan in place that will carry on your legacy and protect your loved ones when you’re no longer here to do so yourself. And it can be difficult to choose the right people to help you. 

Even if you know how important it is, choosing an Executor you can trust to carry out your wishes and honor your intentions can feel like a challenge. If you’re wondering how to appoint an Executor, or where to even start, this article is for you. We’ll walk you through the process and educate you on everything you need to know about choosing and appointing your Executor. 

What Is an Executor?

An Executor is the person you appoint to administer your estate after you pass away. You are trusting him or her to carry out your detailed instructions about what you want to have happen with every asset you own. An Executor may also be referred to as a “Personal Representative.” 

Why Do I Need an Executor for My Will?

Appointing a trustworthy Executor is important, not only for your peace of mind, but also to ensure your estate is administered exactly as you wish, per your directions. If you fail to appoint or name someone specifically, you’re essentially leaving the job up to the courts. If you die intestate (without a Will), or you don’t properly appoint an Executor, the courts will choose someone for you to perform all the duties necessary. 

The Executor of your estate is responsible for taking your Will to probate court after you pass away. There, it will be validated, and at that time, the Executor can then move forward with administering your estate. It can be a huge weight off your shoulders when you know that someone you trust, who you selected, will have your best interest at heart and honor your legacy. 

What Does an Executor Do?

Taking on the role of Executor is no small task. You’re expecting a lot of the person you appoint, which is one of the reasons it’s important to carefully think about who you choose. Executors are responsible for numerous duties – including handling taxes, settling debts, contacting beneficiaries and arranging for inheritances to be distributed.

Before any assets, be they personal property or money, can be paid out, Executors first need to settle debts and pay any taxes the estate may owe. Any outstanding debts to creditors – credit card debt, mortgages, personal loans, etc. – will be paid out of the assets your estate holds. 

Obviously, some debts are bigger than others…for example, if you pass away with an outstanding mortgage on any physical properties, they would need to be settled. That can mean someone else taking over the mortgage, the house being paid off, or a property being sold – but one way or another, the responsibility of the mortgage needs to be transferred to a new borrower. 

Smaller outstanding debts (like balances on credit cards) can be paid off using cash from an account or through sold assets. 

Taxes are another concern, and must also be settled before most beneficiary payouts are started.

Once all debts are settled and taxes are paid, the Executor can then begin to transfer assets to living beneficiaries. How big of a job this is depends on the size of the estate and how many beneficiaries are named in the Will or other Estate Planning documents.

The last portion of an Executor‘s job has to do with finalizing last minute, miscellaneous affairs having to do with the estate owner’s passing. This could include things like notifying the Social Security administration of the death, closing all bank accounts, canceling credit cards and subscriptions, etc.

Who Can Be Nominated as an Executor?

Realistically, you can name almost anybody you trust to be your Executor. That said, he or she must be a legal adult over the age of 18, and generally shouldn’t be a convicted felon.

It’s not uncommon to appoint a family member, spouse, close friend, accountant or lawyer to be your Executor. The person you appoint can also be one of your beneficiaries (and often is), but it doesn’t have to be.

***Some states require that an Executor be a resident of the state you live in when you pass away. You may want to check with your county clerk or probate court to understand your specific state laws.***

How To Choose the Right Executor for Your Will?

Choosing the right person to be an Executor is not always easy. Many people struggle with finding someone they feel they can fully trust. There’s often a worry of hurt feelings or contentious relationships coming to surface after you pass away. 

It’s a good idea, if possible, to have an open and honest discussion with close family members letting them know who you’ve selected. This is not a requirement, but particularly if you think there may be some ill-will regarding your selection, it can be helpful to present the news (and possibly the rationale behind your decision) ahead of time. 

Ultimately, choosing your Executor is a very personal decision, but there are a few factors you want to consider. Think about the following when making your decision – you’re looking for someone who:

  • Is trustworthy

  • You’ve known for a while   

  • You have a trusted relationship with

  • Isn’t significantly older than you

  • Is responsible

  • Has a good financial standing

  • Has a good work ethic

  • Is patient and thorough

  • Is organized

  • Is emotionally stable

How Do You Assign an Executor? A Step-by-Step Guide

Appointing an Executor, once you’ve decided who it will be, is actually not difficult. But, there are a few things you need to know. We’ve made it easier than ever for you with our step-by-step guide. 

Step 1 - Finalize your short list of executors

Create a shortlist of people you’re close with who you think you may want to select. Weigh the pros and cons of each, eliminate those who aren’t a perfect fit (for example, anyone who is much older than you), and narrow it down to one or two people. 

It can be helpful to think about very practical matters such as whether the person you select has the actual time to do everything that is needed. In the beginning, a lot is expected of an Executor. People with very demanding careers, or very young children or a lot of at-home responsibilities, simply just may not have the time to fully dedicate themselves to settling your estate.

You may want to sleep on it, or take a couple days to really think everything through, and once you’ve decided who you will appoint, you’re ready to move on to step two.

Step 2 - Contact your first choice & discuss the responsibilities

Again, we always suggest that you have an open and honest discussion with the person you choose. Explain to them why you’ve chosen them. If they’re unfamiliar with what would be required of them, it’s OK to go over the responsibilities and expectations so they’re absolutely clear on what you are asking of them. Ask them directly if they’d be willing to take on the role. 

Step 3 - Create or update your will with the Executor’s details

Once you’ve decided for sure who you will choose, and you’ve had that conversation with him or her, the final step is to formally appoint them as Executor of your Will. Naming your Executor is easy when you use an online service like Trust & Will. Our one-stop Estate Planning services make it convenient, affordable and easy to create your Will and name your trusted Executor.   

Estate Planning may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve done everything we can to ensure you’re creating a plan you can be confident in, right down to choosing the right Executor. 


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