When someone is drafting their estate planning documents, he or she is tasked with naming an executor – the person responsible for managing their estate after they pass away. While many people choose their spouse, their children, or even a best friend, others look to their extended family. In Brian M. Douglas & Associates’ latest blog, we’re answering the question, “Can my in-law be my estate executor?”

What is an executor?

An executor, also known as a personal representative, is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. They are a fiduciary, either named in someone’s Last Will and Testament or appointed by the court. Serving as an executor is voluntary; however, if you accept this role, you will be responsible for performing important duties correctly, and you will be liable to the estate and its beneficiaries.

What is required of an executor?

All estates vary in their size and family dynamics, but in general, an estate executor is responsible for probating a person’s will, collecting and distributing their assets, and paying off any debts or administrative expenses. Here is a list of the executor’s typical duties:

  • Finding the will and relevant estate documents
  • Applying for probate in the local probate court
  • Notifying interested parties (heirs, beneficiaries, creditors)
  • Managing the decedent’s property; preparing a list of assets and debts; collecting and safeguarding personal property
  • Identifying valid creditors’ claims and paying those debts from the decedent’s estate
  • Distributing assets to the heirs and beneficiaries; setting up any trusts established in the will
  • Filing timely tax returns for the decedent
  • Creating and filing a final accounting with the probate court; closing the estate

Are there restrictions on who can serve as executor?

Prior to naming an executor in your will, you need to make sure that the person will be allowed to serve. Each state has different qualifications in place that a person must meet in order to act as an executor. Generally, the person has to be an adult who has not been convicted of a felony. Under Georgia law, the basic requirements are that the person is 18 years or older and that they are of sound mind.

An executor does not need to be a financial or legal expert – an average or working knowledge of finances is fine. Executors can use estate funds to hire accountants, lawyers, and real estate brokers to help them close the estate. While they do not need to have a specific set of professional skills, executors do need to have certain personality characteristics. An executor is acting in good faith for another person and avoiding any conflicts of interest. To do that, they should be honest, fair, responsible, reliable, organized, and responsive. They need to be comfortable handling different heirs’ emotions and disagreements. Also, an executor must be available and have spare time, as this role requires a six-month to one-year commitment, depending on the complexity of the estate.

Should my in-law serve as my executor?

When it comes to naming an estate executor, many people turn to their family members. This makes sense, as family members are already familiar with the beneficiaries, the relationships and dynamics, and the family values. These are people that we know and are comfortable with. Some individuals may want to name their in-law as their executor, which is fine, as long as he or she meets Georgia’s two requirements: they are 18 years or older, and they are of sound mind. However, keep in mind that if you want to name an in-law, you want to make sure that they can also be an impartial executor. They cannot favor one beneficiary or heir over the others, and they need to communicate with all of the interested parties. Executors have to act in the best interest of the decedent (not in the best interest of the family member he or she is married to), and they must avoid conflicts of interest with beneficiaries and creditors.

Selecting the right executor is crucial to the success of your estate plan. The best intentions can go awry if the executor does not uphold his or her duties under the will or trust. Add to that a complex estate or fragile family dynamics, and a stressful situation can go from bad to worse. If you have additional questions about estate planning and choosing an estate executor, please call our office at (770) 933-9009 or contact us online.