How to Change the Executor of a Will

A last will and testamentDrafting a last will and testament can help to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. You can also use your will to name a legal guardian for minor children or choose an executor for your estate. It’s possible to make changes to your will after it’s written, including removing or adding an executor if necessary. If you’re wondering how to change the executor of a will after the fact, the process is easier than you might think. As you go about the process, it may behoove you to find a trusted financial advisor in your area for hands-on guidance.

Executor of a Will, Explained

The executor of a will is the person responsible for carrying out the terms of a will. When you name someone as executor, you’re giving him or her authority to handle certain tasks related to the distribution of your estate.

Generally, an executor can be any person you name. For example, that might include siblings, your spouse, adult children or your estate planning attorney. Minor children can’t serve as executors and some states prohibit convicted felons from doing so as well.

There’s no rule preventing a beneficiary of a will from also serving as executor. While beneficiaries can’t witness a will in which they have a direct interest, they can be charged with executing the terms of the will once you pass away.

What Does the Executor of a Will Do?

Being executor to a will means there are certain duties you’re obligated to carry out. Those include:

  • Obtaining death certificates after the will-maker passes away
  • Initiating the probate process
  • Creating an inventory of the will-maker’s assets
  • Notifying the will-maker’s creditors of the death
  • Paying off any outstanding debts owed by the will-maker
  • Closing bank accounts if necessary
  • Reading the will to the deceased person’s heirs
  • Distributing assets to the persons named in the will

Executors can’t change the terms of the will; they can only see that its terms are carried out. An executor can collect a fee for their services, which is typically a percentage of the value of the estate they’re finalizing.

Reasons to Change the Executor of a Will

While you may draft a will assuming that your choice of executor won’t change, there are different reasons why making a switch may be necessary. For example, you may need to choose a new executor if:

  • Your original executor passes away or becomes seriously ill and can’t fulfill his or her duties
  • You named your spouse as executor but you’ve since gotten a divorce
  • The person you originally named decides he or she no longer wants the responsibility
  • You’ve had a personal falling out with your executor
  • You believe that a different person is better equipped to execute your will

You don’t need to provide a specific reason to change the executor of a will. Once you’re ready to do so there are two options to choose from: add a codicil to an existing will or draft a brand-new will.

Using a Codicil 
to Change the Executor of a Will

Woman changes her will

A codicil is a written amendment that you can use to change the terms of your will without having to write a new one. Codicils can be used to change the executor of a will or revise any other terms as needed. If you want to change your will’s executor using a codicil, the first step is choosing a new executor. Remember, this can be almost anyone who’s an adult of sound mind, excluding felons.

Next, you’d write the codicil. In it, you’d specify the changes you’re making to your will (i.e. naming a new executor), the name of the person who should serve as executor going forward and the date the change should take effect. You’d also need to validate the codicil the same way you did your original will.

This means signing and dating the codicil in the presence of at least two witnesses. Witnesses must be legal adults of sound mind and they can’t have an interest in the will. So, a beneficiary to the will couldn’t witness your codicil but a neighbor or coworker could if they don’t stand to benefit from the will directly or indirectly.

Once the codicil is completed and signed by yourself and the witnesses, you can attach it to your existing will. It’s helpful to keep a copy of your will and the codicil in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to give a copy to your estate planning attorney if you have one.

Writing a New Will to 
Change the Executor of a Will

If you need to change more than just the executor of your will, you might consider drafting a new will document. The process for drafting a new will is similar to the one you followed for making your original one.

You’d need to specify who your beneficiaries will be, how you want your assets to be distributed and who should serve as executor. The new will would also need to be signed and properly witnessed.

But you’d have to take the added step of destroying all copies of the original will. This is necessary to avoid confusion and potential challenges to the terms of the will after you pass away. If you’re not sure how to draft a new will to replace an existing one, you may want to talk to an estate planning attorney to make sure you’re doing so legally.

What Happens If You Don’t Name an Executor?

Probate court hearing form

If, for any reason, you choose not to name an executor in your will the probate court can assign one. After you pass away, eligible persons can apply to become the executor of your estate. The person the court chooses would then be able to carry out the terms of your will. If you don’t have a will at all, then your assets would be distributed according to your state’s inheritance laws.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to at least write a simple will. This way, there’s no question of your estate being divided among your heirs the way that you want it to be.

The Bottom Line

Making a will can be a good starting point for shaping your estate plan. Naming an executor means you don’t have to rely on the probate court to do it. But if you need to change the executor of your will later, it’s possible to do so with minimal headaches.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about creating an estate plan and what you might need. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you may need as part of your estate plan. You may also consider setting up a trust, for example, if you have extensive assets or own a business. Life insurance is something you may also need to have, along with an advance health care directive and/or power of attorney.

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Source: smartasset.com

Who Can and Cannot Witness a Will?

A will is notarized

A will is an important part of your financial plan. When you create a will and testament, you’re creating a legal document that determines how your assets will be distributed once you pass away. You can also use a will to name legal guardians for minor children. When making a will and testament, it’s important to follow the rules in your state to ensure the will is valid. One of those rules centers on the requirements for witnesses. For more guidance on the intricacies of wills and estate planning, consider enlisting the services of an expert financial advisor.

Why Wills Need to Be Witnessed

A will is a legal document but in order for it to be binding, there are certain requirements that need to be met. For instance, although state laws regarding wills vary, states generally require you to be of legal adult age to make a will. You must also have testamentary capacity, meaning you:

  • Must understand the extent and value of the property you’re including in the will
  • Are aware that you’re making a will to decide who will inherit your assets
  • Aren’t acting under duress in making the will

Having someone witness your will matters in case questions are raised over its validity later or there is a will contest. For example, if one of your heirs challenges the terms of your will a witness may be called upon in court to attest that they watched you sign the will and that you appeared to be of sound mind when you did so.

In other words, witnesses add another layer of validity to a will. If all the people who witnessed the signing of a will are in agreement about your intent and mental state when you made it, then it becomes harder for someone else to dispute its legality.

Who Can Witness a Will?

When drafting a will, it’s important to understand several requirements, including who can serve as a witness. Generally, anyone can witness a will as long as they meet two requirements:

  • They’re of legal adult age (i.e. 18 or 19 in certain states)
  • They don’t have a direct interest in the will

The kinds of people who could witness a will for you include:

  • Friends who are not set to receive anything from your estate
  • Neighbors
  • Coworkers
  • Relatives who are not included in your will, such as cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
  • Your doctor

If you’ve hired an attorney to help you draft your will, they could also act as a witness as long as they’re not named as a beneficiary. An attorney who’s also acting as the executor of the will, meaning the person who oversees the process of distributing your assets and paying off any outstanding debts owed by your estate, can witness a will.

Who Cannot Witness a Will?

Two minors looking out a windowStates generally prohibit you from choosing people who stand to benefit from your will as witnesses. So for example, if you’re drafting a will that leaves assets to your spouse, children, siblings or parents, none of them would be able to witness the will’s signing since they all have an interest in the will’s terms. Will-making rules can also exclude relatives or spouses of any of your beneficiaries. For instance, say you plan to leave money in your will to your sister and her husband with the sister being the executor. Your sister can’t be a witness to the will since she’s a direct beneficiary. And since her husband has an indirect interest in the terms of the will through her, he wouldn’t qualify as a witness either.

But married couples can witness a will together, as long as they don’t have an interest in it. So, you could ask the couple that lives next door to you or a couple you know at work to act as witnesses to your will.

You may also run into challenges if you’re asking someone who has a mental impairment or a visual impairment to witness your will. State will laws generally require that the persons witnessing a will be able to see the document clearly and have the mental capacity to understand what their responsibilities are as a witness.

Note that the witnesses don’t need to read the entire will document to sign it. But they do need to be able to verify that the document exists, that you’ve signed it in their presence and that they’ve signed it in front of you.

How to Choose Witnesses for a Will

If you’re in the process of drafting a will, it’s important to give some thought to who you’ll ask to witness it. It may help to make two lists: one of the potential candidates who can witness a will and another of the people who cannot act as witnesses because they have an interest in the will.

You should have at least two people who are willing to witness your will signing. This is the minimum number of witnesses required by state will-making laws. Generally, the people you choose should be:

  • Responsible and trustworthy
  • Age 18 or older
  • Younger than you (to avoid challenges presented if a witness passes away)
  • Free of any interest in the will, either directly or indirectly
  • Willing to testify to the will’s validity if it’s ever challenged

When it’s time to sign the will, you’ll need to bring both of your witnesses together at the same time. You’ll need to sign, initial and date the will in ink, then have your witnesses do the same. You may also choose to attach a self-proving affidavit or have the will notarized in front of the witnesses.

A self-proving affidavit is a statement that attests to the validity of the will. If you include this statement, then you and your witnesses must sign and date it as well. Once the will is signed and deemed valid, store it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to make a copy for your attorney to keep in case the original will is damaged or destroyed.

The Bottom Line

A last will and testamentMaking a will can be a fairly simple task if you don’t have a complicated estate; it can even be done online in some situations. If you have significant assets to distribute to your beneficiaries or you need to make arrangements for the care of minor children, talking with an estate planning attorney can help you shape your will accordingly. Choosing witnesses to your will is the final piece of the puzzle in ensuring that it’s signed and legally valid.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about will-making, trusts and how to create a financial legacy for your loved ones. If you don’t have a financial advisor, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in just a few minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you can include in your estate plan. You may also opt to establish a living trust to manage assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, set up a durable power of attorney and create an advance healthcare directive. A trust can help you avoid probate while potentially minimizing estate taxes.

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The post Who Can and Cannot Witness a Will? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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