Choosing Your Executor and Fiduciaries
An executor administers a deceased person's estate according to the Last Will and Testament. If there is no Will, the person appointed to administer the Estate is called the “Administrator,” and both also are known as “personal representatives.” They serve as “fiduciaries” of the estate and must take great care to handle funds carefully according to the terms of the Will and/or state laws. Often people think this position is an honor, or the privilege of the first-born, and are hesitant to overlook or offend a family member by not naming them as executor or successor executor. The job of personal representative is neither simple nor easy!
The personal representative must appear in person at the office of the Circuit Court Clerk in the jurisdiction in which the deceased person resided at the time of his or her death, present the original Will, and be sworn in as executor or administrator. This requirement alone means that it is not always practical to choose someone who lives across the country or is an active-duty member of the military.
While many people understand that a personal representative is responsible for gathering assets, paying bills, preparing and filing income taxes, and distributing assets in accordance with the Will, many people forget that he or she also is responsible for ensuring that the deceased person's home is cleaned out and disposed of in some way. This means sorting through and disposing of all of the personal property. It frequently also includes dealing with long-deferred repairs or renovations and the sale of the home.
Finally, the personal representative is answerable to the Court as well as to the beneficiaries of the Estate. A number of documents must be filed with the Court. The most difficult of these is often the Annual Accounting, in which the executor must show all the assets, receipts and outflows of the estate and must be accurate to the penny. It must be accompanied by documentation of every transaction as well as receipts from beneficiaries for all distributions, including distributions of personal property.
The fiduciaries need not be residents of Virginia to serve, but unless a resident qualifies with them the estate will be required to post a fidelity bond or insurance policy to protect the beneficiaries.
Individuals who make medical and financial decisions as agents under Advance Medical Directives and General Durable Financial Powers of Attorney, or trustees under a trust agreement also are considered fiduciaries and owe to the principal duties of fairness, honesty and use of best interests in their actions. While these responsibilities can be dealt with by anyone who is organized and has basic business skills, too many people are overwhelmed by the minutiae of the job. For these reasons, it is important to choose an executor who has the time, availability, skill and willingness to properly fulfill the duties of the position – whether it’s a family member or a professional.