What is an executor, what does the job pay, and what can I do if I don’t want to do it?

Dear Len & Rosie,

A good friend of mine died last month, and I have just discovered that he named me as his executor. I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m supposed to do. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t know if I want to devote the time to it. I’m not even sure that I want to be executor. My friend is survived by his four adult children, two sons and two daughters. They have never gotten along with each other. I just know that they are going to start fighting over their father’s estate, which is worth over $500,000. Just last week they were arguing over who would get his stereo and television. What is an executor, what does the job pay, and what can I do if I don’t want to do it?


Dear Edward,

An “executor” is a person nominated in a will, and appointed by the court, to oversee the distribution of a decedent’s probate estate. The good news is that if you take the job, you get paid, and paid well. The probate executor (or administrator) gets paid the same fee as the probate attorney. In your case, a $13,000 statutory fee for an estate with a gross value (before debts are subtracted) of $500,000. If the estate is worth $1,000,000, you’ll get paid $23,000.

It will be your responsibility to gather the assets of your friend’s estate. You will need to publish a notice to creditors to ensure that those your friend owed money to shall have the opportunity to present their claims for payment. All of the assets in the estate have to be inventoried, itemized, and accounted for before the court will order you to distribute the estate in the manner provided for by your friend’s will. Your friend may have a final income tax return due next April 15th. The estate will also have to file an income tax return if it earns more than $600 of income during the course of administration.

Strangely enough, all of this is more or less routine, and most of the heavy living will be done by the lawyer you hire to probate the estate. The difficulty will come in if your friend’s children fight with one another over every little thing. Your friends possessions of sentimental value should be divided equitably among his children and, hopefully, they can do this on their own. If they are fighting over  the television, there’s an easy solution: Sell it to the highest bidder, or put it up for sale in an estate sale.

If you don’t like the idea of having to put up with your friend’s children, you can simply refuse to do it. They can’t force you to be the executor. If you feel your friend’s children are going to fight over the estate like dogs struggling over a bone, then the $13,000 fee may not be worth the hassle. If you do not want the job, the next executor named in the will should do it, or your friend’s children will fight for the privilege of being executor.

Len & Rosie