We do a lot of estate planning and probate here at the Jacobson Law Firm. That means we draft a lot of wills and trusts, as well as other advance directives, and we help a lot of people through the probate process. One of the great honors in life is to be asked to serve as the executor under the last will and testament of a friend or family member. This means the testator (person making the will) trusts you to take care of his or her estate and the needs of his/her family during the most difficult time many of them will ever face. [Side note: his/her is awkward, but I can't bring myself to use "their" - "he" or "she" is singular, "their" is plural, and that is just a syntactic bridge too far for me. Back to the topic.]
Although it's an honor, there are things to consider both in naming someone and in accepting the assignment. I'm serving for the second time, for my father's estate, and between my own experiences and those of hundreds of clients over the years, certain things keep cropping up that make an executor think, "Now why, exactly, did I accept this honor?" This is not an exhaustive list (and probably just the first of a number of posts), but will give you an idea of some of the challenges of serving as an executor.
1. "I know he had insurance, but I can't find the policy anywhere. And is that my job?" Yes, but only to the extent that the policy payout has to go through the estate. If there's a beneficiary named, your legal duties as executor are over, because those proceeds don't pass through the estate - but your mom probably still needs for you to help.
2. "I have a job, but all the companies, government offices and businesses I have to talk to are only open during my work day." This is one of the biggest challenges: balancing your normal life with the added duties of being someone's executor. The problem grows if your profession has you charging by the hour for your time. Just sayin'...
3. "She was a military veteran/retired military - does that complicate things?" Yes - yes, it does. Dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) can be the most frustrating part of trying to settle an estate and get the surviving spouse/kids set up with a new payment schedule and amount. If you've never been in the military or been a military family member, the language and acronyms alone can drive you nuts, and the required paperwork and "That's not something this office can help you with" answers are extremely challenging to negotiate.
4. "He was a retired teacher - does that complicate things?" - Don't GET me started on how unresponsive the Texas Teacher Retirement Services office is. Best to just drive up to Austin and stand in their faces. And wait.
5. "We were going through his files and found some old stock certificates, but they're for a company I never heard of. What do I do with those?" Tracking down companies that may have been sold, merged, etc. can be a challenge. Google is your friend on a lot of these issues. You may find that the stock is worthless, but you may also find that it's split 6 times since the stock was bought.
As noted, these are just a few of the practical issues that may arise if you serve as an executor. Before you say yes (or before you name somebody), consider how much time it requires and whether you (or the person you name) have/has the temperament and time to negotiate challenges like those discussed above. It's not "rocket surgery", but it does require a modicum of patience and organizational skills.
As always, the above is legal information based on Texas law because I'm a Texas lawyer. It's not legal advice, and since every case is different, you should contact an estate planning and probate lawyer to discuss your particular case or concern.