Matthew S. Payne is a Chicago-based attorney with a 20-year record of success in civil litigation, real estate law and estate planning.

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Does the executor of a will have the final say?

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2022 | Estate Planning

When Illinois residents draft a will, choosing an executor is one of the most important decisions they make. Their executors will be tasked with making sure that the estate’s debts are paid and the remaining assets are distributed to heirs in accordance with the provisions of the will, and they must do all this while following the rules of probate. Executors have a fiduciary duty to always act in the estate’s best interests, which can lead to disputes with heirs when estates have many debts.

Choosing an executor

People often choose an executor based on trust alone, which can lead to problems if they are also a beneficiary. Illinois law allows any person who is of sound mind and over the age of 18 to act as an executor as long as they have not been convicted of a felony, but these requirements should be considered the bare minimum. To carry out their duties effectively, executors, should be capable, pragmatic and conscientious.

An executor’s authority

Executors are given a great deal of discretion, but they are expected to always act responsibly. Disputes involving wills and executors usually arise when paying off an estate’s debts leaves heirs with smaller inheritances than they expected, but courts are rarely willing to step in and replace executors unless there is clear evidence of misconduct or incompetence.

Avoiding estate administration problems

Naming an executor who is comfortable handling complex matters and who has the tact to deal with unhappy heirs is the best way to avoid estate administration problems. Executors should also be contacted from time to time to make sure that they are still willing to accept the role. Individuals who are pondering these matters should also consider drafting trusts instead of wills. Placing assets into trusts allows estates to avoid probate, and using trusts could also reduce estate taxes.