Q&A: Picking your estate’s executor

Dear Liz: One issue in a recent column was about a sibling who did not follow the will. As executor, the sibling took two thirds of the estate instead of the will’s specification of half.

This is why, when my wife and I had our estate plan created, we told the attorney that none of the beneficiaries should be the executor of our wills and none should be a trustee of our trusts. Indeed, our trusts — which own almost our entire estate — cannot have the spouse, child, parent or in-law of a beneficiary as a trustee.

Answer: Yours is certainly one solution, if you can find the appropriate people to serve. But naming an heir as executor or trustee doesn’t have to be a disaster, as long as you name the right person — someone who is honest, dependable and able to serve with integrity.

Q&A: What to consider before becoming an estate executor

Dear Liz: A lifelong friend has made me executor of his will. He has one brother who is named in the will only to be told that he is not included. My friend’s estate is left to two other lifelong friends. If his brother protests the will, what are my duties or liabilities? Can I be pulled into court at my own expense and time? Should I tell my friend that I don’t want the role?

Answer: Being an executor can be a huge hassle, but it’s also an honor and a way to offer a final, loving gesture to your friend. Learn as much as you can about the situation before deciding whether to refuse.

If the brother does contest the will, typically your friend’s estate will pay the legal fees and other expenses. Executors also can be compensated, with the amount determined by the will. If there’s no mention of a fee in the will, state law determines how much the executor can be paid. The fee would be taxable income to the executor. It’s certainly worth discussing the potential costs and fees with your friend before you decide whether to take on this role.

Family members and friends often waive the executor’s fee as a gesture of goodwill, but there’s no requirement to do so. The job typically requires considerable time and effort, even when unhappy relatives aren’t threatening lawsuits. Also, executors can be held legally and financially liable for mistakes. If you do take on this role, consider hiring an attorney to guide you through the process. The attorney’s fees also can be paid by the estate.