How to Hire an Executor. For your loved one’s estate or your will.

E240 Inheritance Checks vs Wires

E240 Inheritance Checks vs Wires

Should executors send funds by check or wire? This could apply to expenses or payments to the heirs at the end. As a professional executor, I’ll explain why we almost never send wires, only checks.

Successful checks vs wires

Successful checks vs wires

If everything goes well, wire transfers are faster (even faster than overnight checks). Wires are more convenient for the recipients since they don’t have to go to a bank to deposit a check. Wires are more prevalent in Europe and most other countries; some don’t even know what checks are anymore. I haven’t had anyone ask me to pay their inheritance by Venmo or PayPal yet, but I feel like that day is coming.

Again, wires are faster and more convenient IF everything goes right. So, let’s look at what happens when something goes wrong.

Lost checks vs wires

If you have a lost or misplaced check, you stop payment. Then you wait and re-send the check. It’s not easy to do, especially for large sums like inheritance checks. But it can still be done.

Lost checks vs wires

Have you ever tried to reverse a wire?  During a real estate closing, we had to wire funds from one closing to another. There was one wrong number in the wire, and it was gone! It took about four days for us to come back to the table to finish the settlement.

In other situations, it has taken months to reverse a wire. We’ve even had situations where the money has simply disappeared (neither the sending nor the receiving bank knows where it went).

We had a case involving heirs in Africa who demanded a wire transfer of the funds, since they did not have the infrastructure in place to receive a check. It was a six-figure amount, so we did a small test of a few thousand dollars to see if it went through. The funds ended up missing, even though it was through a very reputable source. To this day, that money is still gone. The heirs changed their tune about checks once the “test” transfer got lost.

Checks are also better for a paper trail. For estates, we need to account for every penny. That is usually easier with a paper check that can be signed and photocopied. There’s still a piece of paper involved in a wire transfer, but there’s not always proof that it hit the account. Sometimes the only confirmation you get is when the heirs say they received the money.

Even though the use of checks sounds archaic, there is too much downside to justify the convenience of a wire. When it comes to an estate, there are no gold stars awarded for speedy payments. The executor could be held personally liable for a missing wire.

As professional executors, we have the experience to know how to avoid these mistakes. To learn more on what a professional executor can do, check out my book, “How to Hire a Professional Executor


E236 Executor as Home Flipper

E236 Executor as House Flipper

Sometimes, as professional executor, I must be a (reluctant) house flipper.

Why reluctant? It looks so fun and glamorous on TV shows! Renovating means time, money, and risk for the estate. That is not great for an executor. An executor’s job is to preserve value, pay creditors, and get whatever is left over into the hand of the heirs as soon as possible. I prefer to sell as quickly as possible, but sometimes we have no choice.

Low budget home renovation

Low budget home renovation

When an executor is the house-flipper, it is almost always low-budget. Any misspent/overspent dollar is money out of heirs’ pockets. I have to make decisions that don’t cost the heirs their inheritance. Knowing that, I do the bare MINIMUM amount of renovation necessary to sell the house. Am I going to get a presentable countertop or the granite one? Am I going to knock down walls to make an open floor plan? No!

Am I going to scrub the mold out of the bathroom? Of course; almost no one will buy a house like that. Will I exterminate for pests? Yes, we have to! I do what I need to do to get it sold. I don’t spend more to get top dollar; I spend the minimum amount to get a reasonable buyer.

Oversee home renovation

Oversee home renovation

As a professional executor, I must oversee the contractors, plumbers, movers, etc. I oversee who comes in and out of the home and make sure the workers are bonded and insured. That kind of project management can be challenging. Just imagine getting contractors inside to work on a co-op in the city. They have to come at scheduled times, and someone has to be there to let them in. And the heirs don’t have to deal with any of it when they hire a professional executor.

How to pay for home renovations

How to pay for home renovations

As a professional executor/house-flipper, I have to figure out how to pay for these home renovations. Who pays for this? If the estate is liquid, I can take the funds from the estate account. What if the estate doesn’t have the funds? I might have to call the heirs to ask them to contribute some money toward the renovations. That is not a fun job to do; it makes you feel like a solicitor. This a job that the heirs get to avoid if they hire a professional executor.

If the estate doesn’t have money and we can’t raise funds from the family, I arrange financing. This is not the ideal option, but there are different kinds of loans out there to help. If there is something in the house that absolutely needs to be fixed, as a professional executor, I do what needs to be done to fix it.

To learn more on what a professional executor can do, check out my book, “How to Hire a Professional Executor


E224 3 Common Probate Real Estate Mistakes

E224 3 Common Probate Real Estate Mistakes

Here are three recent, real world, case studies of common probate real estate mistakes. Hopefully, you’ll learn how seemingly small errors can quickly snowball into huge, expensive problems, which you definitely want to avoid!

Letting the home fall apart

Letting the home fall apart

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In our example, there is an older citizen who began to decline (this is normal especially for Solo Agers), so keeping up the house was a low priority. The family was focused on scrambling with doctors, Medicare, nursing homes, social workers, etc. So, it’s common to overlook a leaky pipe at the house and leave it untended.

After this particular senior passed, I visited her apartment. I found a bathroom covered in fuzzy, black mold from water damage. So, a little bit of water damage left unattended for months or years is now costing tens of thousands in remediation damage. Mold is a big red flag when trying to sell real estate. You have to take care of that before anyone would be willing to buy it. It could have been solved long ago with a $10 wrench or plumber visit. Now, that $10 fix could cost $10,000.

DIY renovations

DIY renovations

Do It Yourself renovations have become popular. Too many heirs watch too much HGTV! When someone dies, there’s almost always a nephew who sees a fixer upper and wants to “Flip this House.” Too often, they have no idea what they are doing.

In this case, the son-in-law started renovations that were actually not too bad looking. But he did not get the correct permits and authorization paperwork, so he had to stop in the middle when the co-op management found out. Now we’re trying to sell a half-finished home. The toilet is literally in the middle of the bedroom.  We probably would’ve been better off if we just sold it pre-renovation, if you take into account the delays we are now experiencing. At least it would have been intact.

Tenants in probate property

Tenants in probate property

We’ve talked before about how tenants can be a nightmare in probate (E157 How to Deal with Nightmare Tenants in Probate) Tenants of estates don’t respect the need to pay rent. They pay if and when they feel like it. But it’s even worse when the estate suddenly gets tenants who weren’t even there before the homeowner passed. Here are two current, frustrating examples:

Example 1: The home aid won’t leave. We had a Solo Ager who needed help at the end, so he hired a home aide through Medicare/Medicaid. After the man passed away, it’s understandable that the aide needs a little bit of time to figure out where she’s going. But she didn’t leave! The heirs are don’t like conflict and were not sure what their legal rights are, so they didn’t do anything about it. Now, every day that passes, the aide is slowly creating a sort of tenancy! It will be harder and harder to get rid of her. We’ll probably have to evict her, and that will incur costs and time.

Example 2: A decedent passed away with an investment property and he was a small business owner. Since he passed away, the business shut down. The heirs felt bad for an ex-employee and allowed him to stay in the decedent’s condo! So now, a problem that didn’t exist before has been created. The heirs also gave him extremely low rent. Of course, he won’t be leaving now without a court-ordered eviction! The heirs were well-intentioned but created a huge problem for themselves.

How can you avoid these mistakes? Hire an excellent probate lawyer to guide the executor, or better yet, consider a professional executor to run the show. A professional executor would know not to make these mistakes and won’t make decisions based on emotions tied to the property.

Check out my book on Amazon, “How to Hire an Executor,” so you can choose the person who is the best fit.

E221 Will My Executor Serve?

When deciding whether or not to appoint me as their executor, many Solo Agers have asked: “Are you bound by contract to actually be my executor after I die? Is it guaranteed? If not, then what’s the point of researching and vetting and choosing you as my executor?”

Nomination as Executor

Naming me (or anyone) as executor in your Last Will and Testament is a nomination, not an actual appointment or contract.

Nomination as Executor

Why doesn’t the law make the appointment of an executor binding? Because a lot can and will happen between now and when you die.

For example, your executor could die, they could become a felon (felons are not legally be allowed to be the executor), or they could move out of country. Let’s say you name your younger sister, who is a career woman and a go-getter. But in the time between writing your will and when you actually die, she could have personal or family duties which leave her with no time to take on the burden of being an executor. Or maybe your executor just simply doesn’t want to do it.

Perhaps you’re a Solo Ager and you appoint your best friend, then you have a falling-out and no longer communicate. In that case, they most likely will not want to serve as your executor.

That’s why you should have a backup (or alternate) executor, and that is why it is important to understand that it is a nomination and not an actual contract. There is a large time gap between nomination and actual service that no one can predict.

Can an executor decline to act?


Can an executor decline to act?Yes, so choose someone most likely to accept (and will most likely do a good job carrying out their duties as executor, of course). You can’t guarantee that anyone, even a bank or a professional executor, like myself, will accept.

Who is most likely going to accept and who is most likely to decline? Some factors in making that decision are:

  1. Age – you should choose to nominate someone who will outlive you or at least be able-bodied after you pass. Choosing an executor that is much older than you now, could be problematic.
  2. Time – someone who has time, such as someone who will be retired or a professional executor.
  3. Ability – professional executors are familiar with banks, brokerages, real estate, and everything needed to administer an estate. Most lay people are not familiar with the process, and struggle carrying out their duties. As we’ve discussed before, being an executor is hard work.

It’s important to remember that choosing an executor is not an easy process, and a lot of thought should go into it.

So far, everyone who’s asked this question has been satisfied and continued on to name me their executor. Let me know if you have more questions in the comments or by email, and I’d be happy to answer them.

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E217 Executor Dies During Probate

E217 Executor Dies During Probate

What happens if the executor dies during probate? It depends on how far along you are in the probate process.

Probate Court Process Just Started

If no one has been officially appointed yet, you either restart the court process or amend your original papers.
Probate court process just started
For example, Matt’s dad died and his mom hired a lawyer to start probate to appoint her as executor. But before it was finalized, she passed away. The court allowed Matt to amend his mom’s papers to name him as executor instead. This saved Matt a couple of weeks in the process, rather than starting over from scratch.

What Does Administrator DBN Mean?

If the executor has already been appointed, then you must ask the court to appoint a new executor. Unfortunately, getting the administrator de bonis non (dbn) swapped in is about as time consuming and complex as getting original letters.
What does administrator dbn mean?
The Latin term de bonis non administratis means, “goods not yet administered.” Once appointed, the administrator dbn is substantially the same as any other executor.

When Estate Is Almost Complete

If the executor has already gathered the assets, completed tax returns, and only accounting is left, the court may allow the executor’s executor to close the estate.
When estate is almost complete
Let’s say that Matt’s mom did almost all of the work and right before her husband’s estate was done, she passed away. Matt is his mom’s executor. As his mom’s executor, he can come in and finish up the accounting as the executor of the executor. This is a niche situation that the court allows when there is almost nothing left to do for the estate. But most of the time, the court will demand that an administrator be appointed.

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E207 Hire a Professional Executor for your Insolvent Estate

E207 Hire a Professional Executor for Your Insolvent Estate

Going through probate is a grueling 1-to-2-year process. Would you want to go through all that if you don’t even get anything out of it?

If you think the estate may be insolvent, consider hiring a professional executor.

What’s an Insolvent Estate?

What’s an insolvent estate?

An insolvent estate is when the decedent’s debts are greater than the assets. For example, the mortgage, credit card debt, and medical bills are greater than the value of the house and bank accounts.

There are also situations where the estate is close to being insolvent and you don’t realize it. Examples of this are Medicare clawback and unseen taxes. If you received medical care paid for by the government, the government will want the money back when you die. This could leave your estate with a large bill. Additionally, the IRS will look over your taxes carefully to be sure they didn’t miss anything.

Who Must Probate the Estate?

Who must probate the estate?

Many family members and heirs ask: am I required to be executor? The answer is no! You can decline or not act at all. Although, some may feel like they are dishonoring their deceased loved one by leaving the estate as a mess.

If you think the decedent is close to having an insolvent estate, you have options.

One not-so-great option is to let the state take over. There’s a state office (sort of like the public defender, but called a public administrator) that can step in. But, the interest in the estate and the incentives might not be the same as a person who you hire to help.

Instead, Hire a Professional Executor for the Estate

Instead, hire a professional executor for the estate

A better option is hiring a professional executor. You won’t have to do the stressful work yourself and you don’t have to feel bad about abandoning your loved one’s estate to the public administrator.

Even if the estate is NOT insolvent, you now have a relationship with the hired executor. This helps to make sure you get your inheritance. If the estate IS insolvent, then you can relax knowing that a professional is there to wrap up the estate.

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E200 Why You Can Feel Safe Hiring an Executor

E200 Why You Can Feel Safe Hiring an Executor

Instead of appointing a family member to administer an estate, you can hire a professional executor. We often get asked if this is a safe and better route. In a recent case, Sean contacted us to discuss this option. In his particular situation, he is from a blended family. His mother died and she is survived by three adult kids and a stepfather who was separated from his mother for a long time before her death. In his case, he is facing some possible trust issues. For example, the family could tentatively agree to equal shares, but the stepfather could claim full spousal status and kids could try to disqualify the stepdad (there is certainly an argument that he is not a spouse).

If the stepfather acts as the executor, the children may not be completely trusting. Similarly, if the children are the executors, the stepfather may have trust issues. With this complex family dynamic, an independent professional executor makes tons of sense. However, some of the heirs in Sean’s case were a bit concerned about handing over the reins and control of the entire estate to a stranger. Being apprehensive is completely understandable, but here’s why it still makes the most sense.

What is an Estate Accounting?

What is an Estate Accounting?

A professional executor will file a full accounting to close the estate. An accounting is an official record of all books. Everyone gets to see line by line every single dollar and cent that came in and went out of the estate. We are talking full transparency and disclosure. Every heir will get to see everything that happened without any questions. It’s all there in black and white. Professional executors do this not only to put everyone’s mind at ease, but it is also for their protection. Professional executors can only be released from liability from what they disclosed, which is why we disclose everything.

To put it bluntly, no matter how hard they try and how meticulously organized they are, amateur executors such as family members, friends, and neighbors keep terrible estate records. For example, in order for the estate to draft and file an estate accounting, our office has to work with the executor to gather all documents and records. Most of the time, many things are missing and there is a bunch of back and forth to find the missing documents. It costs the estate money to gather these docs and find the items that were never obtained or missing.

Usually, non-professional executor accountings are mediocre at best. On the contrary, professional executors will provide the estate with a clean and solid accounting. It’s not that we are more organized, it’s that professional executors are keenly aware of the risks of liability. We know that if we mess up, the courts will come down on us. We also know the end game, so we know how to start gathering and keep track of finances immediately upon starting the case. We are working the whole time towards producing a line-by-line accounting of all of the funds.

What Does an Executor Bond Do?

What Does an Executor Bond Do?

An executor bond is an insurance against the executor for the benefit of the heirs. So, if the executor makes a mistake, loses something, or is an outright thief resulting in the heirs not receiving what they should have, then the bonding company will pay the claim. With a bond in place, the worse that will happen is that you, as an heir, get to file a claim against the bonding insurance company to get the money. It will then be the job of the insurance company to recover the funds from the executor, and not the heirs.

To get a bond you need exceptional credit, especially with large estates. Generally, they want 750+ credit scores. It is tough for some amateur executors to get a bond for this reason. As a professional executor, we have never had a problem getting a bond and have never had a claim against a bond. If not required, very often, we will get a bond anyway to put the heirs at ease. In some cases, the courts simply require them of the executor, regardless of experience.

When you work with a professional executor and request for them to be bonded, make sure you are ok with the payment of the premium. This is the amount that will be paid annually to the bonding company by the estate. The premium fluctuates depending on the size of the estate and the bond amount. We can certainly get a quote beforehand and you can decide if it’s worth the annual payment.

Are Co-Executors a Good Idea?

Are Co-Executors a Good Idea?

“We have too many cooks in the kitchen.”

In Sean’s case, one of the questions the family asked was if we can have one family member and one professional working as co-executors. They wanted to know if co-executors are a good idea. The short answer is no. It boils down to too many “cooks in the kitchen.” When you have too many people involved with what is really a one-person job, then it becomes more complicated.

You will need each executors’ original signatures on all documents and authorization for all decisions. So, all the benefits of hiring a pro as a centralized decision-maker with experience to move the estate along properly and quickly is being thrown out the window. There are situations where executors are required to do things in person, such as opening the estate bank account. Both executors would need to go the bank together, and this may be challenging to coordinate, especially if one executor lives out of town or out of the country.

It also complicates the financials. You will have two people keeping financial records differently, that you have to merge together at the end. Collecting and combining two executor’s documents will take substantially more time and the estate will bear the cost.

While we do not advocate this route, if it’s the only way the family will be on board with a professional, then we can explore it. For the right family, we are willing to do it. We recommend that you speak with the professional and research what goes into administrating an estate before deciding on the co-executorship route.

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E190 When Does the Executor Tell the Beneficiaries?

E190 When Does the Executor Tell the Beneficiaries?

When does the executor tell the beneficiaries? Once the court process starts, which is usually shortly after death.

We often get this question when our Solo Ager clients name me as executor in their will.

When does the executor notify beneficiaries?

No, the executor does not notify the beneficiaries upon you signing your will. This is a common concern. An executor only notifies the heirs after death.

When exactly? Usually during the court probate process. But sometimes informally before probate.

Example: if you best friend and beneficiary is working with me to coordinate funeral arrangements, it may naturally come up during conversation that she’s named in the will.

Otherwise, the executor notifies all beneficiaries by mailing them a formal court document.

mail boxes

What does an executor have to disclose to beneficiaries?

All beneficiaries in the will receive the same court form, which lists:

  • The names of all beneficiaries
  • A general description of what each beneficiary receives

For example: the form will not specify that Jane received your diamond ring, and John received $10,000. Instead, it will say something like “Jane received items of tangible personal property” and John “a cash bequest.”

Generally, the executor does not send beneficiaries a copy of the full will. However, he must send the will to any beneficiary who also happens to be a distributee (next-of-kin).

Note: if you have a trust-based estate plan, rather than a will, then the notification requirements are different. You can keep information as private as you like. 

Who else does the executor notify?


In New York probate court, the executor must send notice to your closest surviving family, even if you disinherited them in your will.

Your executor must serve a court document and a certified copy of the will on each surviving family. So any disinherited heir will definitely be aware they were cut out.

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E189 Can an Executor be Out-of-State?

E189 Can an Executor be Out-of-State?

No, it’s not a good idea to have an out-of-state executor. Although it’s technically legally allowed, in reality an out-of-state executor causes tons of problems.

Banking Problems

Opening the estate account

You probably think opening a bank account is a piece of cake. And you’d be right, if you were opening an account for yourself, personally.

bank kyc

But banking for an estate is a different animal. But an estate account has tougher “know your client” rules, and the executor often must meet with a banker in person, at a branch, to open an estate bank account.

Troubleshooting problems

When you have a problem with your personal bank account, these days you have limitless customer support options. Website, email, live chat, tweets, or call or walk in.

But with estates, you usually must walk into a branch and speak with a banker to get that missing statement or re-issue that 1099. And that can be a pain for an out-of-state executor.

Selling Real Estate

Clean out

Yes, cleaning out the home or apartment is part of the executor’s duties. For an out-of-state executor, this can mean several trips in and out of New York to supervise the clean out.



New York is one of the few states where most real estate closings are in-person, with all parties sitting around a table for a few hours.

Yes, it’s sometimes possible to close with an out-of-state executor by signing and FedEx-ing the documents. But if any problems popup (as they often do with estate sales), it’s better to close in-person, so the lawyers can troubleshoot any problems in realtime, and avoid an aborted closing.

Minor stuff (mail forward, etc.)

There are countless small executor tasks to get the home ready for sale. Forwarding the mail, small repairs, returning extra keys, conversations with the super, etc. All much easier to handle with a local, New York executor.

Travel restrictions

travel restrictions

Sometimes an executor simply cannot legally enter the US:

  • Unable to get a visa
  • Immigration problems
  • Quarantine or other travel restrictions

If any of these apply, the heirs may be better off hiring a New York professional executor, rather than a non-New York person.

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E185 How to Name a Bank as Your Executor

E185 How to Name a Bank as Your Executor

Want a professional executor, but prefer an institution such as a bank or trust company? Here’s what to expect.

The application process

Like all other bank interactions, you must complete lots of forms and paperwork. It’s a lot of documentation, it may feel like you’re applying to college all over again.

And just like applying for college, you may feel like you’re applying for acceptance. Banks do not accept all executor nominations, and they have internal committees to decide which estates they will serve.

Bank minimums

The lowest minimum I’ve seen is $1 million liquid assets, and it usually must be invest with the bank. But more usually the minimum will be in the range of $2-5 million, liquid and invested.

Trusts only

Anecdotally, we’re beginning to hear that banks prefer to accept trustee appointments, and not executorship.

Some financial institutions flat-out reject clients who ask them to serve as executor, even when that client has millions invested with them.

Apparently some banks have acknowledged that being an executor is tough work, and perhaps not worth it for them.

Customer (higher) fees

Most states have laws that set the executor’s compensation. But banks will usually ask you to sign a contract with it’s own fee schedule. Higher fees, of course.

Banks have many advantages (“immortality,” private client perks such as fine dining, tickets, etc.), just be aware of what it entails.

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