Executors, even when named in a will, have the right to decline serving as the executor. They formalize this refusal by filing a form at the relevant probate court.
Emotional tension between family members, lack of time to devote, and fear of doing a poor job can all be reasons why an executor refuses to serve.
When this happens, the courts will appoint the backup executor, if named in the will. If the deceased passed intestate (without a will) or if no backup executor was named, then the courts will appoint another appropriate relative or individual according to their probate code.*
They typically ask people in this rough order to step up and serve:
- The decedent’s spouse
- Any next of kin
- Any creditor who is owed by the estate
- Anyone in the county who can be considered a good fit
But what happens if no one wants to do the work? Do they have to, or are there other options?
What You Should Do If No One Wants to Be an Executor
Assuming you don’t have litigious siblings, would like to save thousands of dollars in additional fees, and would like to control estate expenses to maximize inheritances, we highly recommend taking on the role of executor for your family.
If you’re just nervous about all the administration, people the world over settle estates all of the time, and there are plenty of probate guides and resources to help.
The truth is, unless you are settling an estate with more than $1 million in probate assets or already dealing with extremely high legal tension in the family, the costs of hiring a third-party executor are rarely worth it, and professionals and institutions may decline the opportunity altogether if the estate value is too low.
Outsourcing directly lowers the value of your inheritance
Think about it this way: every extra dime spent during estate settlement comes out of your inheritance.
So by outsourcing the executor role, you are giving away the default executor fee to someone outside of the family or beneficiaries, plus incurring any additional legal and/or professional consulting fees that can easily get into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars range.
All that money is taken from the estate, so while that service may be worth it to some people, I would highly consider stepping up to complete probate as the executor— even if you need to take it slower than normal.
And the thing is, you still won’t be wholly removed from the process if you hire someone. A family member will still need to answer questions, help the third-party access things like the home, and approve certain actions.
Plus, being an executor is an honor. It’s the last act of kindness you will do for the deceased, and unless you have really good reasons like we mentioned above, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to not serve as executor. You can still consult with a probate attorney, you can still get help, but you will save a lot of cash by taking on the role.
Okay. With that out of the way, here are the options if you do have a large estate, have litigation issues, or are at least okay spending a good amount of the inheritance on outsourcing.
Options when no one wants to serve as executor
Here are your options when no one wants to step up:
Hire an attorney or accountant to serve
You can contact local probate lawyers and accountants and see if they are serving as an executor as part of their services. Fees vary, but most probate attorneys won’t consider serving unless they see $15k in opportunity or more, so take your time to call a few offices, get quotes, and figure out who feels like a good fit.
Appoint a trust company or bank
Banks won’t bother with estates that can’t cover their minimum fees, but for large estates of a million dollars or more, you may be able to talk with financial institutions about services they offer.
Banks typically charge by %. E.g. 3.5% of the first $100k in estate value, 3% for the next $200k, 2% for up to a million, 1% for up to $10 million, and so on.
If we followed that fee structure, a $5 million estate would pay $3,500 + $6000 + $14,000 + $40,000 or $63,500 for the service.
This is just an example, and you should check with specific institutions for details.
Appoint a trusted friend
If you have a family friend who is interested in some extra cash, you could talk to them about acting as executor for the family. Their fee would have to be approved by the probate court, but it could be a cheaper option than the above, although that’s a big responsibility to ask of someone. This is not available in all states, either.
Let a public administrator serve
In some cases, not all, a probate court may appoint a public administrator to settle the estate for a fixed fee. This is typically for people who pass without a will and with no known family, but it may also happen if no suitable executor is available / no potential executor can be talked into serving.
Consider being a co-executor
If no one wants to be the executor because they feel like they don’t have time, you could consider splitting the work by naming multiple executors. As long as you feel confident in your ability to work with someone else, this can be a good solution.
Keeping the executor role within the immediate circle is worth it
Again, I get it if no one is feeling particularly up to it, but outside of highly specific legal and monetary situations, the vast majority of families should have someone step up to serve as the executor. Otherwise you will lose more of your inheritance to fees than necessary and potentially delay the probate process entirely if you can’t find someone to serve.
When this happens, you have no legal right to any of the probate assets left behind by the estate, which slows down inheritance distributions, increases costs, and can extend the time creditors have to claim debts.