So in the case of choosing an executor, who should get the job, what are the fees and what should you expect? There are a few things to consider when answering these questions.
There are a number of decisions to be reached when planning for your estate and not least among them is the choice of executor. A poor choice of an executor, or a disconnection between executor, estate, and beneficiaries can hobble even the best laid of estate plans. Indeed, Reuters offers one unfortunate beneficiary’s troubles in a recent article on the topic and offers some solid suggestions to consider.
The beneficiary was Stephanie Stephens, who, in the end, was surprised to find that the estate she received had shrunk by $129,000, something she angrily blames on the executor. Apparently, the estate had incurred a $104,000 loss when the executor failed to pull the assets from the flames of the 2008 financial meltdown and, insult to injury, that executor was then entitled to a fee of another $25,000. Needless to say, she wasn’t happy. Whether or not the executor was to blame may be debatable (since it was the beginning of the recession, after all) but there are other wrinkles to the story. For example, Stephanie hadn’t met the executor of the estate until after her relative passed away and so only knew him as a somewhat disinterested party. Further, she was surprised by the executor’s fees even and even felt them to be excessive.
In this case, the beneficiary was, at best surprised (and at worst, victimized) by a situation she did not understand. Her case offers an example of a kind of disconnect that can all-too-easily arise between executor, estate, and beneficiary.
Reuter’s offers three general principles to bear in mind:
Know the estate. Choosing the right executor has a lot to do with the nature of your estate. Is it complex or simple? Are there a lot of moving parts and assets that may be at risk? A family member can likely carry out a simple estate but a professional might be necessary for those more difficult ones.
Know the person. Just because someone is a “good person,” this does not mean they should be doing business for you. You need to know that they are well-intentioned and interested in carrying out the tasks, but above and beyond that you must also know that they have the proper skills and business mindset to carry out your plans and take care of your assets in your absence.
Let your family know - communicate. It’s a difficult conversation to have but it’s important to relate your plans directly so that your family knows your decisions. Further, you’ll want to be sure they are aware of the cost of the executor so it isn’t the surprise it was in Stephanie’s case (in fact, you yourself may want to be sure you are aware of the costs, too).
You can learn more about Probate and Estate Administration on the Probate Practice Center on our website. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter to stay informed about issues affecting you, your family and your estate.
Reference: Reuters (June 16, 2011) “Help! Our executor cost us $129,000