There are many excellent probate lawyers who would be terrible executors. Why? Let’s break down what you need to have to be a professional executor.
The right support team
Probating an estate takes a LOT of hours. It is not reasonable for those hours to be charged on an attorney’s billable time; your estate will go broke in no time. Some lawyers who are just starting out might do everything on their own, but that’s a recipe for burning out quickly.
The attorney must have well-trained, experienced paralegals and support staff. This is a huge asset for an executor while carrying out their duties over a period of months or even years. We’ve had some clients ask if they can just hire the paralegals! Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way.
Think technically, not strategically
Some probate lawyers tend to think more technically, not strategically. That’s not a bad thing; competent probate lawyers will know the steps to get from point A to point B.
But sometimes the question is, SHOULD we be trying to get to point B? You may need to step back and see the bigger picture. A good executor thinks strategically and sees around corners.
For example, a good lawyer knows which forms to send out to complete the court probate package. A good executor also knows which forms to use but also knows that some forms alarm heirs and cause them to clam up. A good executor won’t just send out the forms to the heirs but will take the time to explain the forms and walk the heirs through the process.
Pessimists make good lawyers
Lawyers are supposed to expect the worst, it helps them to draft all those contract clauses to prepare for worst case scenarios. But such pessimism may paralyze an executor, who has a duty to reasonably keep the probate estate moving forward. The executor’s job isn’t to make sure that nothing bad ever happens, but to keep the process going to get the checks into the hands of the heirs. The mindset is a bit of a balancing act.
A good executor will be aware of the downsides, because they could be personally liable for things that go wrong. But the executor should be able to weigh the situation and embrace whatever solutions are available to keep things moving. There is a difference between being aware that something bad could happen and being crippled by the possibility.
A good example of this is closing an estate with an accounting reserve. Meaning, you’re 95% sure the estate is ready to close, and you are ready to get the checks to the heirs. But there is a 5% chance that could be a tax issue or creditor. Since the executor is personally liable, it’s tempting for him not to make any distributions until he is sure that there are no issues. One solution is to close the estate but hang on to a reserve amount to handle any possible problems. This will move things forward to settle the estate.
Hopefully this will help you identify what kind of executor you want for your will. If you decide to hire a professional executor, call them and interview them before making the decision. To learn more, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon.