Should you hire a professional executor?

5 min read

What a professional executor does, and why a family might choose one

  • A professional executor handles all aspects of probate, and is legally responsible for any errors made in the process.

  • Hiring a professional executor also empowers someone who is not a family member to make all decisions regarding the estate.

  • Possible decisions include: selling assets in order to pay debts, and hiring lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and other professionals.

  • Besides their expertise, a professional executor may be helpful in mediating disputes between heirs, since they are not a member of the family.

  • You can also hire a professional executor as a co-executor, so that the family retains some control over the process.

When a loved one passes away you may end up finding out that they have declared you as the executor of the estate.

For some, this can feel like relief that they’ll be the one in charge of all the details that come with the estate that’s been left behind. But, for others, it can feel daunting, overwhelming, and downright scary.

It takes a very organized and detail-oriented person to take on the task of handling an estate. Some people do not have the time or the necessary skill set, patience, and understanding to tackle a process as complex and extensive as probate.

Because being the executor of an estate is something that not everyone is cut out for, there are professional executors who can be hired to do all the work for you and your family. But this isn’t a decision you should enter into lightly.

ItÆs always a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of hiring a stranger, as opposed to relying on a family member to serve as executor of your loved one’s estate—even if they are regarded as a top professional in their field.

What a professional executor does

A professional executor does exactly what any executor would do: handles the estate in its entirety.

While you’ll still have to be part of the process to a degree—locating important documents and gaining access to bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, and properties, for instance—when it comes down to the dirty work, so to speak, the executor takes care of it all.

They’ll handle everything from itemizing assets and debts, going over the will and locating beneficiaries, filing paperwork for probate, and getting everything that needs to be in order put in order. And, of course, they do it all for a fee.

Professional executors are paid by the estate. How much they can charge depends on the value of the estate and the state in which the executor is working.

Some states—like Georgia, Texas, and Massachusetts—allow executors to charge a fee equal to a percentage of the estate’s value. In Massachusetts, that percentage is about 1.5%, while in Georgia and Texas, it’s 2.5% and 5%, respectively.

States like California and New York both use a tiered system, in which a percentage is charged per $100,000 in an estate, with the percentage decreasing with each additional $100,000. That’s why professional executors exist—with large estates, there’s big money to be made.

Should you hire a professional executor?

Many families hire a probate attorney doing the bulk of the work, but have a family member as executor, overseeing their work.

Hiring a professional executor takes that idea a step further, empowering someone outside your family to act on behalf of your loved one’s estate and its beneficiaries.

They will have sole authority in making decisions about things like liquidating assets to pay debts, tax strategies, and hiring accountants, appraisers, real estate agents, and more.

The most common reason a family would hire a professional executor is expertise—and to save themselves the time and effort of an intensely challenging role.

The most common reason a family would hire a professional executor is expertise—and to save themselves the time and effort of an intensely challenging role.

Another plus for a professional executor: They can provide unbiased solutions to situations that might arise among beneficiaries, since they are not members of the family.

Keep in mind, if something goes wrong during the process of handling the estate, the professional executor is 100% liable for all errors and can be sued.

You may end up with a professional executor anyway

If the person named in the will as the executor declines, then the responsibility falls to the probate judge to find a replacement.

In most states, there’s a pyramid of priority within the family as to who will be appointed—although each state has their own succession laws in regard to these situations.

If everyone on that list declines, the judge may allow the family members to choose an executor, which ultimately may end up being a professional executor.

Or, if the family can’t think of anyone on their own to take on the responsibility, then someone can file for executorship.

Perhaps consider a co-executor instead

If you’re the one who’s been appointed the executor in your loved one’s will, but you know you don’t have what it takes to do right by them in successfully handling the estate, then the best option for you and everyone involved might be hiring a co-executor.

With a co-executor, you’ll still be part of the process of settling the estate, but you’ll also have a professional to guide you along the way so you can avoid mistakes for which you could be held liable and still honor your loved one’s wishes. They did choose you to be the executor, after all.

Most families want to get through the process of settling the estate as quickly as possible so they can start moving forward. They also want to make sure their loved one’s assets are in safe hands.

Trusting an outside individual, even if they are a professional, isn’t always easy for people, especially when they’re grieving.

Only you and your family can gauge whether hiring a professional executor is the right decision to make.

But, it’s important to remember, it’s not necessary to hire one if you and your family strongly feel you can handle the estate on your own. So don’t let a professional executor try to convince you otherwise ●