Many people find it uncomfortable and stressful to talk about what will happen to their property when they die. Because of these feelings of discomfort, they do not write a will or seek legal advice about wills and estates.
However, writing a will is the only way that you can ensure that your wishes will be known with regard to your property. Whether you write your own will or decide to consult with an attorney, one of the most important decisions that you will make is your choice of an executor.
An executor is the person who is named in your will as the person who will manage your estate and make sure that your wishes are followed. You should list at least one successor executor to serve as a backup in case your executor cannot or will not serve.
Although you nominate a person to serve as the executor, the ultimate decision about who will serve is made by the Clerk of Superior Court, who serves as the ex officio judge of probate matters under North Carolina law.
The individual that you nominate must be at least 18 years old, and he or she must be legally competent. The person cannot be a convicted felon whose citizenship rights have not been restored, and he or she must be literate.
If a resident of another state, the person must appoint a resident agent to accept service of process of any filing in an action in the estate matter.
The individual also cannot have engaged in certain acts that would bar their right to serve as an executor of a spouse’s estate or a child’s estate. For example, if a husband obtained a divorce or an annulment, he would be disqualified by statue from serving as the executor of the estate of his former wife.
Finally, the individual nominated to serve as executor cannot be someone who is deemed otherwise unsuitable by the clerk. For example, if the individual were suspected of murdering the decedent, the clerk would not appoint the person as the executor of the decedent’s estate.
Once the executor is appointed by the clerk, that individual will be responsible for maintaining and distributing the property in the estate. The executor should be someone who is comfortable with keeping records, using calculators and filling out forms, as the executor will have to complete detailed forms to be filed with the clerk to account for the way that estate funds and property have been handled.
The forms have to be filed on time as set forth by statute, so the executor should be someone who handles matters in a prompt and organized fashion. The executor should be committed to following the directions set out in the will and should be able to interact in a professional, polite way with others.
Finally, and most importantly, the executor is a fiduciary, or person in a role of trust and confidence, so he or she should be someone who is honest and trustworthy.
Think carefully about the people in your life who would make good executors. The executor is responsible for carrying out your last wishes on earth, so choose people that you trust who will honor you and who will speak for you when you are no longer able to speak for yourself. This choice is one to be made with care and with thought. Choose someone who you can trust now, so that others can trust them later.
Nancy Ray teaches in the Finance Department at East Carolina University.