Executors


What is an executor?

An Executor is the person or institution you name to be in charge of your estate after your passing. The executor’s job is to  carry out the instructions you make in your will such as who should receive specific artwork and assets.

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Are Executors Paid?

This is up to you, but we strongly suggest that you add an instruction in your will providing compensation for your executor. It is a long and tricky job, and you want to make sure it is done right. You can set aside a set amount of money for the executor, or grant him/her a percentage of the estate, or pay him/her by the hour. It is also a good idea to run the payment by the executor when drafting the will.

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Who should I choose for my executor?

This is entirely up to you. Try to think about who will be in the best position to do the work when the time comes. For artists, this generally means someone familiar with your life’s work. They may be in a better position to understand your work and your wishes. Executors generally need to be organized, thoughtful and thorough. Don’t just think about who has the skills — think about whether emotions or responsibilities will make the job too hard. Pick a person who will be trusted by the beneficiaries to avoid court battles.

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Can I name anyone as my executor?

Almost. Executors do not need any formal qualifications, such as being a lawyer or an accountant. Rather, they act in your place, so they will hand off really technical aspects of the estate to professionals, just like you do in your daily life. Executors cannot be minors or felons, and must be US citizens.

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Can I name one of my beneficiaries as my executor?

Yes. Many people do, especially if there is only one beneficiary, such as an only child or a widow/er. As mentioned above, don’t just think about who has the skills — think about whether emotions or responsibilities will make the job too hard.

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Can I have multiple executors?

Yes. This may be a good idea if you think one person might better handle the finances of the estate, and another the art. However, it is important to make it clear in the will which responsibilities each executor is responsible for.

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What are the responsibilities of an executor?

An Executor has a “fiduciary duty” to the estate. This means he/she must act faithfully as you would, to the best of his/her knowledge. The obligations can run from the immediate, such as notifying the proper authorities of the death and securing personal possessions, to managing assets for beneficiaries until a specific time in the distant future. In extremely rare cases involving theft or failure to perform the instructions in the will, the beneficiaries can sue the Executor. Try to avoid that by choosing and executor who is trusted, organized and responsible.

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What should I tell my executor when drafting my will?

Think about what he/she will need to know when the time comes, such as the location of the Will, Inventory, etc. It is a good idea to leave detailed instructions about safety deposit boxes, personal possessions, and art. Instructions to an Executor are not legally binding as Will provisions are, but will speed up and simplify the process.

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Can the executor refuse?

Yes. That is why it is important to pay him/her fairly, discuss the role with him/her ahead of time, and to also name backups in case something changes.

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Further Resources

When Drafting Your Will, you may wish to consult this chapter by the American Bar Association (American Bar Association, “ABA Guide to Wills and Estates, Chapter 10: Choosing the Executor or Trustee.” (4th ed. 2013)).