The executor of your will is someone not only you need to trust, but also those friends and family members who, in the dark time after your passing, will have to work directly with them. Even though the executor will have the legal authority to make decisions about the dispensation of your estate, those people closest to you will have no choice but to feel within themselves the pull of memories associated with specific assets and their own feelings about what should happen to them. So, in a real sense, it’s these people who you’re putting in the hands of the executor.
The lengthy legal process of probate identifies the executor of the will and charges him or her with totaling the estate’s assets, settling any claims of creditors against the estate, and distributing any remaining assets according to the stipulations in the will. For its part, the court provides oversight, decides on motions and keeps the executor accountable to the will’s beneficiaries.
Thus another major consideration in naming an executor is competence. The work of an executor is a lot of detail-oriented gathering of documents, phone calls to creditors, coordination of annuity payments, closure of bank accounts. The person upon whom these responsibilities fall should be able to handle these tasks, and also should not have an unreasonable burden placed upon them that would interfere with their job or other obligations. This is probably why many testators name an attorney as the executor: Attorneys do this sort of work for a living, and have a staff to help them out. And while there’s nothing wrong with using an attorney as an executor, their competence should also be balanced against the feelings of the beneficiaries.
At each stage of probate, and especially as the final accounting is filed, the executor can be removed for conflict of interest, negligence or malfeasance by any interested party. This is actually a protection for those friends and family members who are in some ways at the mercy of the executor. But, these procedures are relatively unlikely to result in the executor being discharged from their responsibility, and if they do succeed, obviously slow down the estate discharging process and make it the emotional nightmare that so many dread. Even in a best case scenario, the movement of a case through probate court can take years. Choosing the wrong executor can virtually guarantee a painful, multi-year process.