For many folks, it is the highest honor to be appointed as executor (or, as "personal representative" in this era favoring a more gender neutral/political correctness title) under a Last Will and Testament. Beware, the what began as an honor may morph into a horror story once the job starts.
Choosing an executor can be a difficult task. Why? It means finding someone you trust to carry out your last wishes after you are gone.
Commonly, the appointment of an executor is a means to honor and a gesture of respect made to a friend or family member. Neither the estate planner nor the would-be executor ought to forget, however, that serving as executor can be a fairly difficult role to play. The Wall street Journal recently offered some practical insights and advice on the topic, noting that to be named executor is both "an honor… and a pain."
Simply put, the executor administers a decedent's Last Will and Testament through probate, navigating the many twists and turns of that court process. Administration involves accounting for assets, paying bills, and distributing assets in accordance with the terms of the Last Will.
The process typically takes time, too. It can mean up to several years for larger estates, and during that time the executor must keep up with the associated laws, tax code changes, and financial investments, or else intelligently delegate such responsibilities to professionals. It means that a "non-professional" can do the job, but perhaps not an "amateur"; you have to know your abilities and have confidence. To top it off, the compensation for being an executor is often meager, given the heavy workload, and is regulated by state laws.
The biggest challenge an executor will face, by and large, is a shifting relationship with the family. Money can make people antsy or even belligerent, even if the terms are clear in the Last Will, and that's something an executor might have to bear. This is especially true of family members turned executors who may face soured relationships at family functions. Accordingly, that can make for some awkward moments around the Thanksgiving table.
Practically speaking, to serve as an executor you must anticipate the challenges ahead of time, prepare for them, and remain organized. Indeed, organization is essential throughout the probate process, to include separating yourself into the two roles: executor and family member/friend.
While planning your estate and settling on an executor, consider alerting your would-be executor of your decision ahead of time. Doing so will allow them to prepare for the role, and perhaps even get special instructions from you personally. For more advice and anecdotes you can read the original article here, but to get a better idea of the challenges it is best to consult with your estate planning attorney for advice and counsel.
Back in March of 2003, Kiplinger's magazine ran an excellent article on this subject, but from the angle of serving as a "trustee." I would commend it to your reading (and to forwarding it to your trustees), as it provides some very practical pointers and points out some very hazardous pitfalls.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (September 19, 2011) "Estate Executors: An Honor… and a Pain"
Reference: Kiplinger's (March, 2003) "In You They Trust"