Do you need a successor executor?

You’ve pulled together all the information you think you’ll need to give your estate attorney so you can prepare your will.  You have details about your assets—property you own, money you have, etc.  You also have a list of how you want these assets distributed.  You even have your executor selected—someone you trust to follow the instructions in your will, work well with the estate attorney, and act in the best interest of the beneficiaries.  

But when you meet with your estate attorney, she has a surprise question for you.  Who would you like to be your successor executor?

What is a successor executor?

A successor executor is someone who will serve as executor if the person you name as executor is unable or unwilling to serve.  This usually happens when the executor dies before the will-writer, does not have the ability to serve, or is unwilling to serve.

Do I need a successor executor?

It is common for an estate attorney to ask you not only about the person you want to serve as your executor, but also ask you for at least one or even two successor executors.  By naming successor executors in your will, you maintain control over who serves as the executor of your estate.

If you die and your will lists only one executor who is unable or unwilling to serve in the executor role, the probate court will appoint an executor for your estate.  By listing one or more successor executors in your will, you ensure your wishes are followed regarding who serves in the important executor role.   

What you probably don’t realize is that the executor role typically includes more than 100 duties. If the will writer owns property, has stocks, or other investments, it can be as many as 150 steps. Here are just the 15 primary duties or an executor, just to help you think through how complex the role can be. The executor can be compensated and some states offer direction on how much an executor can be paid. And, of course, an executor’s expenses are often reimbursable, but having the right person managing the estate settlement process for you is incredibly important, so having a backup executor is a very good idea.