If you’re the eldest sibling in the family or deemed to be the ‘most responsible’; if you’re seen to be a good friend by someone; or a fine upstanding citizen by others, chances are you will be asked to be an executor of someone’s Will.
After you’ve enjoyed the warm feeling of being wanted, just pause for a moment and take stock of what it really means to assume this most important role.
You need to be aware that when the person dies, you will be required to spend a significant amount of time executing your responsibilities – and these can be onerous.
The actual functions will vary from one situation to another and, to some extent, depend on the surviving family members. However, the legally defined duties of the executor include:
For all this, you may find yourself in the middle of family disputes and even subject to legal action from a dissatisfied beneficiary or creditor. If placed in this position, the executor needs to be able to manage his or her responsibilities as impartially as possible.
The executor can be held personally liable if a beneficiary suffers financial loss as a result of the executor’s actions or inaction, and in some instances, be legally liable for any losses incurred.
If, after considering all of this, you don’t think you can honour the person’s request and fulfil the role appropriately, it might be best to decline the offer.
If you’re feeling bad about not accepting, you could suggest that your friend or relative engages a professional executor in the form of a trustee company (or public trustee) or firm of solicitors. This will also guarantee the executor outlives the person making the Will.
Be mindful that laws do vary between Australian states and territories. Consider enlisting the assistance of an estate planning solicitor for specialist advice.
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