A friend or relative just died and you found out that you are named in their will as the executor of their estate. While you’re understandably honored, you’re also a bit hesitant about doing the job.

Are you stuck? No, not actually. You may have to take a few formal steps to clear the way for someone else to be put in charge, but you’re generally under no obligation to accept the obligation. (Just bear in mind that it’s far easier to decline the position at the outset than to step aside later when there are too many complications.)

Before you agree to be the executor of someone’s estate, here are the things you should think about:

  1. Are there any co-executors? If so, that’s something you need to consider. If you and your siblings, for example, are named your parent’s co-executors, you may know right away that you just don’t want to be stuck negotiating every detail of the estate with them. Plus, every co-executor has to sign off on every decision — which can add to your work.
  2. Can you handle the heirs? If you and the decedent’s heirs don’t get along very well, that can make for an uncomfortable process. The hostility can even boil over due to stress or tensions with the estate and result in legal action.
  3. Do you have the time? This is a big job — and it does take time. You have death certificates to get, letters to write to creditors, banks to contact and taxes to file — and that’s just to start. If you don’t have the time, there’s no shame in admitting it.
  4. Are you willing to accept some liability? Being the executor of an estate can expose you to legal issues and the potential for personal liability if something goes wrong. You have to be willing to accept that risk if you take on this task.

If you’re uncertain about being an executor of someone’s estate, find out more about your legal options. You may simply need some experienced assistance.