Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Executor

When I took on the executor role, I didn’t really know a lot about what the executor duties were.  I thought it would be simple–just follow the will and hand out the assets according to those instructions.

But the will did not say where every possession should go and there were the instructions of the probate court to follow including legal filings I needed a lawyer to do.  Looking back, here are the five things I wish I knew before embarking on my executor duties.

1. This isn’t something that is over in a few weeks

Serving in the executor role means a commitment of around a year of your life.  Sure, there are times that you won’t have to do anything for a few weeks but there are other times when you are working a few days straight on the executor duties.  An checklist of your duties can be helpful in pacing the work and knowing what’s coming.

2. There may be things you can’t do yourself

I am a do-it-yourself type of person.  If there are tasks to be done, I get to work and do them.  But while serving in the executor role, I discovered that I needed the help of an estate attorney to make sure I got through the probate process properly.  Thankfully the lawyer who prepared the will was available to help with the estate administration. Whether or not this is the case for you, I recommend being open to getting help from professionals.

3. Sometimes you will be in uncomfortable situations 

I served as an executor for an estate where I was also a beneficiary.  Most people who serve as an executor are in the same situation.  This can put you in an awkward or even uncomfortable position with the other beneficiaries.  Be prepared for this and be sure you are not ever showing favoritism for yourself or any other beneficiary.  Be prepared for questions surrounding executor fees, which differ by state, and if you’re allowed to reimburse yourself for expenses as executor. Your actions in the executor role must be above reproach.

4. Sometimes there is no right or easy answer

Do you sell the car or wait to see if the market improves a bit?  Do you create the inventory of assets yourself or hire someone to do it? Which method do you use to let beneficiaries pick personal property they want so it is the most fair and creates the least strife?  Serving in the executor role is hard sometimes and there might not be an easy answer. Your plan can help with ideas or let you know what to anticipate. 

5. You grieve and serve and feel satisfaction all at the same time 

Most people who serve in the executor role had a close relationship with the person who named them as the estate’s executor.  Sometimes completing a particular executor duty may trigger grief at their death.  And that same moment may also make you feel grateful that they named you to serve in the role and give you satisfaction that by completing the executor duties, you are serving that person you cared for.  

Serving in the executor role doesn’t have to be a complete list of unknowns. 

When you create your account, you gain insight into the steps executors complete and even how you can prepare your own estate for the person you name to serve as your estate’s executor. is a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their duties in this complex role. This is the best online tool for executors and includes a helpful step-by-step interactive guide and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.