A Few Things to Consider Before Becoming an Executor

You just discovered that you are the nominated executor in your parent’s will and all you can think is, “Now, what?” What do I do next?

Here’s the thing, you might not be the right person for the job. And it is a job, and often it’s a thankless one. The person who nominated you isn’t around to send you a gift basket, so the state laws allow you to take a percentage as a commission. But other than that commission, you most likely won’t receive a thank-you card in the mail.

So, what should you do? The first thing you should think about is whether you are the right person to accept the nomination as the executor.

What Makes a Person a Good Executor?

A good executor will ensure that a decedent’s estate is wrapped up quickly, thoroughly, and efficiently without any unnecessary delays. It’s often a thankless job and one that tends to get grief from other family members. Besides being thankless, the situation is also complicated and involves working with several different institutions, including banks, courts, insurance companies, and taxing agencies.

If you are considering accepting a nomination as an executor, here are some qualities that you should have:


Applying for probate and administering a person’s estate will necessarily generate a lot of documents. There are filings for court – sometimes several filings. There are bank filings. There might be the sale of a house, or of more than one piece of property. There might be vehicles, insurance policies, retirement accounts, and investments.

If the decedent had any types of collections, such as art, coins, or stamps, you’d need to gather appraisals and find buyers of the items in the collection – unless they were a specific bequest.

In some circumstances, a bequest to an heir of a specific item might no longer be in the estate. This often happens with jewelry, such as diamond engagement rings that are meant to stay in the family. The rings might be gifted to the child when he or she decides to get engaged, and suddenly that ring is no longer a part of the estate. The missing ring has to be documented as an early inheritance or as a gift.

In addition to these items, there are important dates that have to be observed. If these dates are missed, it could unnecessarily prolong the administration of an estate … which means that heirs will start getting tetchy about their inheritances.

Financially savvy:

It is not unusual for a decedent to have multiple bank accounts at various banks. Many decedents, especially older ones, will have life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts, and other investments.

If you’re unaccustomed to this financial complexity, it will be difficult to talk to the banks and financial institutions that are holding the accounts. These institutions speak their own language, and sometimes you need to use the exact right words to accomplish your goal. That means it’s important to be financially savvy or be ready to become financially savvy quickly.


On top of recently losing a loved one, you’ll get an inside – and often unpleasant – look at their finances. It can be shocking to find out how much debt a grandparent or parent had accumulated during their life. It can also be surprising to receive a false claim against the estate for a debt that your loved one didn’t have.

As an executor, you might have to defend against false claims, which means being ready to go to court, file documents, and invalidate claims that aren’t accurate.

In addition to the potential for false claims, family members who think they should receive an inheritance are often inpatient to deposit a check. As an executor, you have to protect the decedent’s wishes, ensure that the estate is administered correctly, and attempt to prevent discord and conflict among family members.


Probating and administering an estate can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months. That’s a significant amount of time. In that time a baby learns to speak and walk! A lot happens between death and the closure of an estate, including preparation of the estate inventory, closing out accounts, selling property, liquidating assets, paying creditors, filing taxes, and communicating with beneficiaries and heirs.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and it takes a lot of time. Although an executor can be compensated for completing the tasks, an executor will still need to have that time available.

How to Say, “Yes”

If you are a person who is organized, financially savvy, strong-willed, and available, and you’ve decided to accept the nomination as an executor, you can say, “Yes, I want to do this.”

If you’re the sole-nominated Executor in a will, you can apply to the Surrogate’s Court (NJ) or the Register of Wills (PA) in the county where the decedent resided. You’ll have to complete a probate application, and you may have to secure a bond before you can take the Oath. The Surrogate or the Register will then provide you with the Short Certificate, and you will be able to administer the estate by following the decedent’s wishes and the state law.

How to Say, “No”

Barring a judge’s order, you can’t be forced to be an executor. That’s not how this works. If you are nominated in a Will, or if you’re an intestate administrator, then you can turn down the appointment. All you have to do is sign and submit a Renunciation.