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

How much does it cost to hire an executor?

How much does it cost to hire an executor?

When folks reach out about hiring me as their executor, price is top of mind for many (if not all). So let’s go over what it costs to hire a professional executor, including fees and other expenses. We’ll start with the basics.

How to Hire a Bitcoin Executor

How to Hire a Bitcoin Executor

When people reach out about hiring me as their bitcoin executor, they tend to ask a lot of the same questions. These things might be on your mind also, so I’m going to answer them here. Let’s get started!

E336 Risks of Being an Executor

E336 Risks of Being an Executor


What are the risks of being an executor? An executor has a lot of power and responsibility during probate, but is correspondingly accountable for everything that happens within the estate.

We’ll cover how an executor has risk of even personal liability, how long that risk lasts, and how an executor can protect himself from these risks.

Executor personally liable for debts and taxes

Executor personally liable for debts and taxes

The executor has personal liability for debts, taxes, and anything wrong with the estate. If an executor makes an error, the court’s first reaction is to deny payment of the executor’s commission. If the commission is not enough to cover the court-determined error, the executor’s PERSONAL assets (home, bank accounts, etc.) are legally at risk if court rules that the executor screwed up.

When someone chooses an executor and that person accepts the role, it’s very possible that neither party is aware of the risks. The risks can be more than the executor forgetting to pay a tax bill and becoming personally liable for it. Some scenarios are a bit more nuanced. For example, the executor sells the real estate, but at the closing a few months later, the heirs dispute the sale price. The heirs might seek the difference in the price from the executor’s commission or from him personally. Another example is when the executor fails to pay a “knowable” debt or tax or fails to take the steps to find out if debts exist.

How long is an executor liable for debts?

How long is an executor liable for debts?

Theoretically, the executor can be liable forever. There are some limits, but practically an aggressive lawsuit can get around those limits

Many states have laws that give creditors 7 months (or similar time limit) to submit verified claims. There is a specific legal procedure to become an official creditor or else the executor is not personally liable for that debt. However, even in absence of a formal claim, the executor can be held to have constructively known about the debt, or even should have known!

The best practice when closing an estate is to ask heirs to sign a receipt and release, which says the heirs accept their check as full and final settlement, and agree not to try to sue the executor later. Theoretically, the release is iron-clad protection for the executor. But practically, the heirs can get around it. An heir could claim that she signed the receipt and release because the executor failed to disclose information, otherwise she wouldn’t have signed it, etc.

How executors can protect themselves

How can executors protect themselves

The good news is that there are ways to protect yourself if you are an executor.

First, get the tax clearance. Don’t distribute estate funds until the IRS and state have confirmed you’re good to go. Although painfully slow, they have procedures to formally release an executor from personal liability. If you fail to get the tax clearance (or even fail to search for tax that is owed), the taxing authorities have and will slap you with large and completely unexpected tax bills.

Second, when closing an estate, do a full accounting with receipt and releases. The accounting is composed of the books and records of the estate in court-approved format. It provides full disclosure to the heirs and gives heirs/creditors less wiggle room to argue that the executor failed to inform them.

Next, keep a reserve. Hang on to a small percentage of the estate funds to pay those surprise debts or taxes, just in case.

Of course, the reserve will be paid out to the heirs eventually. But, give yourself some time to make extra sure that the estate doesn’t owe any debts or taxes. No matter how good an executor is and even though the estate is closed, things tend to come up down the road. If you have a decent reserve, then you won’t have to hunt down the heirs asking them to pay back the debt. And believe me, the heirs will not return your calls and you’ll be out of luck.

Lastly, you can protect yourself by not being an executor: hire a professional! Even with a good probate lawyer, amateur executors are prone to making poor decisions that leave them open to risk. Why not have an experienced professional making those risk cost-benefit decisions, instead? Even a small mistake could leave an executor open to risks.

For those of you who are considering being executors or for those who are thinking about who to name as your executor, it is useful to know what an executor has to go through. To learn more, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor.”

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E331 No Upfront Cost to Name a Professional Executor

E331 No Upfront Cost to Name a Professional Executor


Folks who are interested in naming me as their professional executor ask how much it costs to get started. There is no cost! We’ll explain why, what you get, and what to expect.

It’s just a nomination

It’s just a nomination

At this point, you are healthy and just being responsible by making your estate plan. When you name me as trustee in your trust or as executor in your will, it’s just a nomination; I haven’t done any work yet. Besides, you can always change your will and I may never become your executor or trustee, depending how you make your plan.

Not your estate planning lawyer

Not your estate planning lawyer

To be clear, I’m not your estate planning lawyer. I’ve done estate plans before, and I am very familiar with what needs to be done. Nowadays, I’ve narrowed down my expertise and I am focused on being the best possible executor or trustee after folks have passed. Some people ask if I can draft their wills or trusts anyway, and the answer is unfortunately no. I no longer have the software, fancy paper, etc. to do wills.

Consider it a good thing that I don’t split my time between preparing wills and acting as a professional executor. It means that I am dedicated to providing the best service as your executor.

Also, as an experienced executor, I know how things will happen at the end. When reading a will, I can foresee what issues will arise because of the way it is written. When you nominate me as your executor, I am happy to take a look at your will as a second set of eyes. Again, this review would be non-legal advice, because I am not your estate planning attorney. But, I will be the one to carry out your wishes. When reviewing your estate plan, I look for any red flags that may make my job harder as your executor. As a side note, we don’t usually find many red flags, because many people work with competent estate planning attorneys.

Complimentary check-ins

Complimentary check ins

As we’ve discussed before, we offer complimentary annual check-ins. We do this to make sure I’m alive and you’re alive! It’s also useful to get to know each other over the years. You want an executor who is familiar with you and your wishes, based on more than just one meeting or phone call. As we talk, I might discover that you’ve grown distant from certain relatives or perhaps you made a new best friend later in life. These things could be useful when carrying out your will or even defending your estate plan.

Since I am not doing any work for your estate yet, we keep the calls brief. Sometimes it’s just an email. But it’s a good reminder for you to think about your plan at least once a year.

This is a common question that we get, but if you have any other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. To learn more about what I do as a professional executor, check out my book, “How to Hire a Professional Executor,” available on Amazon.

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E327 Professional and Amateur Executor Cost the Same

E327 Professional and Amateur Executors Cost the Same


How much does a professional executor cost? Most people are surprised to learn that executor fees are the same whether you choose an experienced professional or your unemployed nephew who has lots of spare time. When people realize that they are paying the same cost, they will probably choose a professional executor.

In fact, your estate will probably even save on expenses with a professional vs.an amateur.

Executor fees set by state law

Executor fees set by state law

Executor fees are almost always set by state law, whether it is a percentage of the estate or a reasonable fee. The percentage often works out to 2-3% of the estate’s value, which is less than half of a broker’s commission in most states. Some states use the “reasonable fee” standard, and the court accepts a customary percentage as “reasonable.”

Sometimes the reasonable fee is an hourly rate that the court deems acceptable. If you have an amateur executor, the hourly rate can get pretty expensive. If the executor doesn’t know much about probate, it will take him longer to accomplish tasks than a professional executor. Sometimes amateur family/friend executors attract more drama. The heirs are more likely to contest the fees, and the executor may not get paid at all.

Professional executor save time and expenses

Professional executor save time and expenses

As with anything else, a person who has done something hundreds of times is probably better at it than someone who has never tried. A professional executor is experienced, efficient, and has the right contacts. A professional executor knows the person to speak with at the bank rather than talking to 17 different banks. He knows which court clerk is the surly one and which one will push your paperwork through. He also knows which vendors have the best value for the cost (cleaning crews, painters, contractors, accountants, etc.).

A professional executor also knows which services are not necessary. For example, staging an apartment for sale is expensive, but usually not necessary. We’ve seen staging bills as high as $20,000! As an heir, I’d be upset that my inheritance went to pay for something like that. Some contractors pitch pretty extensive renovations, like a marble countertop. Because it’s not their money or their house, some executors go into HGTV-mode.  There is no need to knock out the walls; we just need to clean the home and make it look like it hasn’t been lived in for 40 years.

There are circumstances where it’s beneficial to stage and renovate a home, but not for estates. The longer a probate property sits around, the more it will cost the estate.

How much do banks charge to be executors?

How much do banks charge to be executors?

Banks are the exception; they will sometimes ask for special language in the will or trust opting out of state law and getting higher fees with higher minimums. A large entity, like a bank, doesn’t want to be bothered with small estates and small fees.

On top of that, most banks won’t agree to be your executor unless you have a decent amount of liquid money invested in their bank. We made a recent call to a bank who refused to act as executor for a $2.5 million estate. Even if you have enough money to qualify, you still need to wait for their risk analysts and committees to accept. It is a long process…IF they even accept. you.

As you can see, it’s more cost-efficient to hire a professional executor than to choose your unemployed nephew. So if you don’t want to burden a relative or friend with the task, please check out my book, “How to Hire a Professional Executor,” available on Amazon.

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E323 Top 5 Reasons They a Hire Professional Executor

E323 Top 5 Reasons They a Hire Professional Executor

When we chat with new clients, we ask them why they chose to look for and hire a professional executor. Here are the 5 most common answers. Perhaps you will see yourself in one of these situations.

1.  There’s no one else

There’s no one else

There may not be any close family or friends due to old age or because the client is a Solo Ager. Or maybe a client does have close family and friends, but they do not live nearby, they have no time, or they are not financially savvy.

2. Went through being an executor and hated it

Went through being an executor, hated it

We have clients who served as executors and hated it. Because they hated being an executor, there is no way they want to burden a loved one with the task.

It could be the other way around: the friend or family member who they want to nominate was already an executor once and hated it, too.

3. Fees are the same, so you may as well get a professional

Fees the same, may as well get a pro

Once clients realize that the executor fee is exactly the same for a professional executor versus a family member or friend, they can’t believe it! In most states, the law is the same. Whether it’s your unemployed nephew who needs money to start a rock band versus a seasoned professional with an experienced staff versus a bank: If you have that choice and the fees are going to be the same, why wouldn’t you name a professional executor?

In fact, hiring a professional executor may even cost less. An experienced and professional staff can reduce costs due to economies of scale, better deals with vendors, etc. We minimize a lot of losses because we can often do things quicker.

4. Banks won’t take the client or charge fees or require certain investments

Banks won’t take, charge fees or require investment

Many come to us after being rejected by their bank/brokerage, even if they have plenty of money and have been loyal customers for years.

Or sometimes, they are in the process of getting the bank to agree to serve as executor. But there are so many layers of committees and approvals from the bank. Those people come to us because we provide a more personal experience. With a bank, you’ll never talk to the person who will be the executor; it’s just “the bank.”

Lastly, people don’t like the bank’s requirement that a certain amount of money must be invested with them to qualify. You probably need between $3 million and $5 million just to talk to the bank. The bank also requires very specific investments: your money has to be invested in Brokerage Account “A” and the underlying investments must be in the Brokerage’s created funds. To put it bluntly, this is how banks can charge more fees.

5. Age gap siblings

Age gap siblings

This is similar to our #1 reason above, but more often we are seeing age gap siblings. Since we’ve been seeing this specific situation more often, we thought it was worth mentioning as its own reason. For whatever family reason, we’re seeing clients whose next closest sibling is 25 years older or younger! They don’t have a tight relationship due to the large age gap.

On the other hand, we have clients whose siblings are almost the same age, which doesn’t give an elderly client much hope that a fellow elderly sibling will be able to fulfill the duties of an executor. You want someone who will survive you or be young enough to handle stressful situations.

These are all great reasons to check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon. If you are part of our monthly email list, we give away one free paperback copy a month!

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E319 Top 5 States Looking for Professional Executors

E319 Top 5 States Looking for Professional Executors

As we’ve spoken about before, Anthony can be your professional executor, even if you don’t live in New York. We have been seeing many inquires from out of state lately, and these are the top 5 looking for Anthony to be their professional executor. We are located in New York, so we are not including New York inquiries on this list. While this isn’t a scientific study, this is what we are seeing based on our daily calls.

Georgia

Georgia

First on the list, much to our surprise, is Georgia. Maybe because it is retirement friendly, which we have learned that it is. There is low sales tax, no inheritance tax, low income tax, real estate is “more bang for your buck” compared to other states, and it’s warm and super friendly. Although it is retirement friendly, we aren’t seeing that there is a large network of professional executors there. It works out for Anthony, since he spends most summers in Atlanta and is very familiar with Georgia.

New Jersey

New Jersey

This is less of a surprise, as it’s right across the river. We’ve found that a lot of New Jersey folks seek out New York professionals, thinking they will get a “city caliber” professional. It doesn’t matter where your executor lives, the fee is set by New Jersey state law. So, whether it’s a professional executor or a non-professional such as your nephew, they will get paid exactly the same. So, you may as well get the most for your money. And for Anthony, he’s in New Jersey often, so this is fairly easy for him.

Texas

Texas

Third on our list is Texas, and we don’t really have an explanation for this one. Perhaps, like Georgia, maybe it’s a good place for retirement. Again, while searching online, we are not many professional executors. But why Anthony? The only thing Anthony can think of is that in real life, he tends to get along well with Texans. Maybe the viewers and listeners sense that and want to work with him? After all, a professional executor is someone you will work together with, at least annually, so you should definitely have a good rapport. This state also works for Anthony, because he does travel to Texas often.

California

California

Fourth, and possibly the most surprising is California. It’s far from New York and on paper, it doesn’t seem like a good fit. California even as a fairly robust local professional fiduciary industry. They even have a certification and a trade association for professional executors. But for whatever reason (maybe the requirement of upfront fees by CA executors), clients want Anthony all the way in New York. Believe us, he is happy to serve in California – he loves it there!

Florida

Florida

Last, but not least is Florida, and this makes the most sense. It’s a huge retirement state. However, for legal reasons, serving as a professional executor is problematic. Anthony can’t actually not serve as a professional executor in Florida, because he doesn’t live there. Only blood relatives may be out of state executors. But there are ways to deal with this. Anthony can be a nonresident Trustee for a Revocable Living Trust. Trusts are becoming very common in Florida to avoid probate. Clients who want to work with Anthony find this trustee workaround a great option. And again, he has no problem traveling to sunny, warm Florida, which he does often.

If you want to find out what is required of an executor, I suggest reading Anthony’s book, “How to Hire an Executor.”

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E314 Nonprofessional Executors Don’t Get Paid

E314 Nonprofessional Executors Don’t Get Paid


Could you imagine doing a ton of work and not getting paid? It’s frustrating, but it happens. One of the drawbacks of nonprofessional executors is they are more likely to lose their executor fee, despite doing months, even years, of work for the estate.

In this podcast, we are going to discuss a few real-world instances where this happened. We want to help you see that this can happen and that you don’t want to take on the executor role expecting a nice piece of change for your hard work. It sounds like a decent payday, but as we’ve discussed before, the ratio of hours worked to amount paid is not equal, and you may not even get a penny.

Family changed their minds, denied his executor fee

Family changed their minds, denied his executor fee

In this case, “Joey’s” aunt passed away and the aunt was survived by siblings. Joey was not even an heir and didn’t even live in New York, but he was younger and financially savvy. He was in a position to defer his job offer to focus on being an executor. Of course, his family “graciously” agreed to have him serve as executor.

So, Joey moved from California to New York and deferred a legitimate job offer. He put in three years of hard work administering the complex estate. In the end, his uncles objected to Joey getting paid. Literally at the very end, right as disbursement checks were being written out. Yes, he did have the right to fight for this executor commission, but it would put the family at odds with each other. So, for the sake of preserving family harmony, Joey didn’t fight. He walked away.

For those that think this would never happen to them or to their families, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it happens often, unfortunately. Family drama can happen when you’re dealing with emotions and money.

Contested will, contested executor commission

In this second situation, “Linda” was named as executor in her aunt’s will. Some family members contested the will, and after a lengthy and expensive litigation, the family settled on a revised breakdown of their inheritance. Side note – this was a good case where the decedent should have made a better plan to omit them.

During all this time, Linda, as the executor, was doing all the grunt work for over a year to vacate, repair, and sell her aunt’s dilapidated house. She also had to deal with the very stressful process of evicting bad tenants.

She did a great job.

Again, at the very end, right as checks were about to be sent out in accordance with the negotiated settlement agreement, the contesting family objected to Linda getting an executor commission. So, the family litigated that too, and Linda unhappily eventually settled on a reduced commission because the legal fees would’ve kept adding up to keep fighting. We watched her work so hard to eventually get less than deserved. Could you imagine working your normal full-time job to then get notice of a large reduction at the end of the year?

Court denied her executor compensation

“Kristy’s” good friend named her executor because Kristy happened to be a lawyer (though not a probate lawyer). Her friend made a DIY will.

Only when her friend passed and Kristy began probate did she learn that since she’s a lawyer (even though she wasn’t a probate lawyer and wasn’t acting as a lawyer for her good friend), the will needed certain additional paperwork and affidavits. In the absence of this paperwork and affidavits, the Court cut Kristy’s executor compensation in half!

Kristy spent multiple stressful years dealing with her friend’s estranged yet demanding heirs, banking issues, and other complications. In Kristy’s own words, she said that being an executor was “not worth it,” and she was a little embittered to her friend for putting her in such stressful role.

These are a few reasons that we talk about professional executors. If using a professional executor, family dynamics wouldn’t be a factor and there would be less of a debate by the family regarding the executor receiving their fee.

Executor

To learn more about hiring a professional executor, so this doesn’t happen to a friend or family member, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon!

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E306 What Information Are Heirs Entitled To

E306 What Information Are Heirs Entitled To?

What information are heirs entitled to, and how often can they request it? There is a delicate balance for executors to keep heirs in the loop without draining their time or estate resources in constantly responding to inquiries.

Executor vs. beneficiary rights

Executor vs. beneficiary rights

Why is it important to balance executor and beneficiary rights?

If heirs demand too much, an overwhelmed executor may make errors with actual estate decisions, or grow weary. On a more emotional level, the executor may begin to resent the decedent for putting them through this.

On the flip side, if the executor ignores or stonewalls the heirs, the heirs may resent the decedent for his choice of executor. Disgruntled heirs may pointlessly sue the executor at the end during the accounting process.

The best way to strike a balance is to address their respective legal rights.

The Accounting

The Accounting

The main legal requirement of the executor is the accounting. Note that the accounting comes at the END of the estate. The accounting records every dollar in and out during the executor’s tenure. The executor presents the accounting to heirs, the court, and possibly creditors.

Unlike some other states, New York generally has a “give them enough rope” approach, where the executor has tons of autonomy and authority. But with great power comes great responsibility: the executor is personally liable for any “mistakes” at the end.

There is no statutory legal requirement for providing the heirs with constant updates, just the accounting at the end. But, real world expectations outside of the statutory limitations means giving periodic updates to the heirs.

Periodic updates

Periodic updates

It is best practice for executors to update heirs during the big milestones, such as selling the real estate or successfully filing the tax return. Sometimes those milestones are far apart, so at the very least, the executor should update the heirs every 6 months or even quarterly. It is important for executors to set expectations in the beginning of how often the heirs will hear from them.

If the executor doesn’t update the heirs, a judge may not be happy. When heirs get frustrated, they can file a motion to compel accounting with the court. The judge won’t normally grant such a request 6 months into the estate. But, if the judge finds out that the heirs haven’t been updated in those 6 months, maybe he will be annoyed and approve the request.

Executors should also update the heirs because they may want to buy-in from the heirs regarding major decisions along the way. It would be bad if the heirs found out months later that mom’s house was sold for a certain amount. Keeping the heirs informed eliminates unpleasant surprises and lessens the chance that they will sue the executor for decisions they disagree with. The executor doesn’t have to ask the heirs for permission to do anything, but keeping them in the loop gives the heirs a say in decision-making.

If you want to find out what is required of an executor, I suggest reading my book, “How to Hire an Executor.” A non-professional executor may get overwhelmed by all of the questions and requests from heirs and may not know where to draw the line. Something to consider is hiring a professional executor to deal with your heirs instead of placing the burden on a family member or friend.

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E302 Minimum Estate Size for a Professional Executor

E302 Minimum Estate Size for a Professional Executor

What is the minimum estate size that a professional executor will accept? A few prospective clients have called asking, so we’ll review bank executor minimums, our minimums, and some exceptions.

Bank executor estate minimum size requirements

Bank executor estate minimum size requirements

Typically, bank minimum sizes are high. In New York, it has been as high as 5 million or 2 million liquid assets held with the institution. In most cases, the bank wants an estate with mostly liquid assets. It’s too much of a pain for them to deal with real estate, etc. They also want those liquid assets held at their bank. The bank generates fees and they get to have those assets invested in their products.

Our estate size requirements

Our estate size requirements

We generally try to fill the niche between folks who have an estate large enough to need our services, but not large enough to use a bank as an executor. Generally, we’ve set the bar as low as $250,000, and we do not have a liquidity requirement. However, we do want to make sure there are enough liquid accounts to fund estate expenses. Usually $50,000 in liquid assets is plenty to cover estate expenses.

You’ll need to make sure the account with liquid funds does not have beneficiary designations. If you name a beneficiary on an account, that account will go directly to the beneficiary. This means the executor won’t have access to the account to pay for estate expenses.

These requirements may not be hard for many clients to meet, but we have run into some problems in the past. The biggest issue is beneficiary designations. Naming beneficiaries on an account means that the account will not go through probate. If there are only a handful of small accounts in your name alone (no beneficiaries), it’s not really worth it for a professional executor to do all the work and deal with all the taxes and creditors without much compensation. Compensation is based on the size of the estate.

A problem for New York clients is that many co-ops do not allow the ownership shares to be moved into a trust or have a beneficiary designations. This creates a need for a professional executor, even if your other assets are in trust or have named beneficiaries.  If you must have an executor to deal with your co-op, then you must make sure you leave at least one account of sufficient size (with no beneficiary designations) to go through probate.

Again, your executor needs enough liquid assets to cover fees, clean out costs, and other costs to sell your co-op. If you don’t leave sufficient liquidity, a professional executor will not accept. You don’t want to waste your time researching and choosing an executor who won’t accept based on your low liquid assets.

What if my estate is too small?

What if my estate is too small?

We do make exceptions for our clients and try our best to help.

One helpful tip is to add language to your will or trust setting a minimum fee. Even if your estate is below $250,000, you can state that you want your executor to receive at least a certain amount. That way, you are guaranteeing that your executor gets paid even if the size of your probate estate is small.

Even if your estate is small, you should still leave sufficient accounts without beneficiary designations so that your executor has funds to work with. And don’t just leave that one perfect account, because that leaves little margin for error. If you forget and start spending from that account, then your executor may not accept due to low liquid assets.

Lastly, if you want a professional executor to administer a small estate, do your best to minimize the drama. If you think there will be conflicts with heirs or a contested will, you may want to consider a revocable trust. Also, do a decent job of record keeping. Your executor won’t want to deal with a huge forensic accounting problem for a small estate. In summary, make sure your estate is cost-justifiable for your professional executor to accept.

You can learn more about choosing a professional executor in my book, “How to Hire an Executor.”

Feel free to send questions via comments or email. We will do our best to answer them either directly or as the subject of a podcast.

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