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Deciding to be an executor

Many people in New York feel flattered when someone asked them to be the executor of the will. Being trusted enough to handle a friend or family member's posthumous affairs is indeed an honor. However, it's important for prospective executors to fully understand the possible ramifications of the position.

An executor has several responsibilities. One is ensuring that the decedent's assets are distributed according to the terms of the will. Others include paying off existing debts owed by the decedent, filing the decedent's final personal income tax return and paying amounts that are owed to the IRS. Depending upon the size of the estate, federal and state estate taxes may be owed as well.

While all this may sound straightforward, the ability to efficiently settle an estate is often dependent on how well the decedent prepared for his or her eventual demise. If the will is not straightforward about the location of assets, or how assets such as jewelry and family heirlooms are to be distributed, the executor may be caught up in a web of paperwork and family squabbles.

Unfortunately, there been situations in which executors have suffered extreme stress, financial losses and even lawsuits. Litigation can result when a beneficiary of the will doesn't believe that the executor has done a good job of handling the estate. Executors can also be personally responsible if the estate has been distributed prior to creditors or taxes being paid.

Because of the responsibilities involved, it is important for people to carefully consider whether they want to be an executor under a will. However, they are not expected to be experts, and they are entitled to retain the services of an experienced probate attorney when questions arise.

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