You’ve Been Named Executor: Do You Have to Qualify?

Hook Law News | Oct 19, 2020 | Rachel H. Snead

After a relative or friend dies, you may be surprised to learn that you were chosen to be the executor of their estate. You might feel pleased to have a chance to do a final and important favor for someone you loved. On the other hand, you might feel burdened and like you have no choice but to accept. In fact, you do have a choice. Even if you feel an obligation to the deceased person you can decline the job and let it pass to someone else. It may not even be necessary for anyone to qualify at all.

It is important that you meet with an attorney experienced in estate administration to determine what will be required because every estate and every family situation is unique. The difficulty of serving as executor depends on many factors: the size of the estate, your state’s laws, and the complexity of the deceased person’s financial affairs, to name a few. But it is important to note that you do not have to accept the executorship if you do not wish to take on the responsibility. You can always decline to serve.

It may not be necessary for you or anyone else to qualify on the estate. In some cases, an estate may be so small that it would be unnecessarily expensive and time consuming to qualify because of probate fees, court fees and legal fees. In Virginia, an estate that is less than $50,000 can be collected with a Small Estate Affidavit. This means that assets such as small bank accounts and life insurance policies can be collected by the beneficiaries without anyone being required to qualify as a personal representative of the estate.

It is also possible that the individual that passed had a very good estate plan in place and all of their assets were protected by a trust or had a designated or payable on death beneficiary listed. If their assets had a designated beneficiary then those assets pass directly to that individual. There is no need for anyone to qualify in order to collect those assets because they pass automatically at the person’s death.

It could even be unadvisable for you to qualify as executor because the deceased individual had a lot of debt and the estate is insolvent. An insolvent estate is an estate where the assets are not sufficient to pay all of the debts, claims and expenses. By qualifying as executor you would be opening yourself up to potential liability as personal representative because you as the fiduciary of the estate would be responsible for making sure that debts were paid in the correct order according to priority under Virginia law.

In summary, you do not have to serve as executor and even if you feel obligated to accept the executorship, qualifying may not be necessary or even advisable under the circumstances. The first thing you should do when you find out you have been named executor of an estate is to meet with an attorney to get competent advice. The second thing you should do is take a deep breath and know that you have options and the freedom to say no.

Ask Kit Kat: Service Dog Selection

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, I know that you are enjoying your retirement, but having followed disability planning for many years, what can you tell us about how service dogs are trained and selected?

Kit Kat: Well, this is very interesting, and scientists are learning more and more about this through study and actual experiments with puppies in labs using controlled settings. The goal is to weed out candidates as early as possible, because it is very expensive to train a puppy and not have it work out with a real-life recipient. It can cost as much as $50,000 to train a dog for service either with people like the blind or in a police-setting like bomb or explosives detection.

So, one such study has been undertaken at Duke University in North Carolina through a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.  Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist who is co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center for Independence, is leading the way. The center uses puppies bred by the California-based Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). So far researchers here and in other studies have learned: 1) successful service dogs make more eye contact with people when presented with a problem, 2) puppies with hovering people parents fail in test settings more often those who are raised with less attention, and 3) brain scans of dogs who were not selected for service positions had brain scans revealing higher levels of excitability.

At the Duke Center, a puppy kindergarten of 7 puppies was started in March 2020. Then COVID hit, and the puppies had to be farmed out to private homes. Still, the research continued. The center hopes to resume in-house training in 2021. The plan is to evaluate and train a new group of puppies each semester over a period of 12 weeks. Each puppy will undergo 14 cognitive tests from age 8 weeks to 20 weeks old. So far, they have found that puppy performance at 10 weeks is just as telling as performance at 18 weeks. This is important, because training time may be able to be shortened in the future. Any refinement in training will make the cost of a service animal less expensive and bring them to functionality more quickly. Each year, for example, NY-based Guiding Eyes for the Blind trains 170 dogs, but they have requests yearly for 400 dogs. Anything that can shorten the process in a win for everyone. (Karin Brulliard,”Which pups will make the grade as a service dog? The Washington Post, August 10, 2020).

Rachel H. Snead

757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Rachel Snead is an associate attorney with Hook Law practicing primarily in the areas of estate planning, estate and trust administration, guardianship and conservatorships, dispute resolution, and fiduciary litigation. To date, she has litigated and settled over 50 matters. She enjoys the diversity of work that elder law provides, and the challenges presented by litigation just as much as she enjoys helping people with creating their unique estate plan and navigating the complex administration of estates and trusts.

 A graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law and Virginia Commonwealth University, Rachel is admitted to the Virginia State Bar. She is also a member of the Virginia Bar Association (VBA), the Hampton Roads Estate Planning Council, the Virginia Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (VAELA), and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association (VTLA).

In 2022 she became a licensed health and life insurance agent and attended the prestigious National Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia School of Law where she received intensive hands-on advocacy training.

 She has taught multiple continuing legal education courses including, “Getting Started in Elder Law,” “Virginia Probate from Start to Finish,” and “Guardianships and Assisted Decision-Making in Virginia,” and has facilitated sessions for VAELA including “Medicaid & SSI When a Client Owns a Business.” She has also been published on various platforms including T & E Magazine, and Age in Action, a quarterly newsletter published by the Virginia Center on Aging and Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Practice Areas

  • Estate Planning
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Guardianships & Conservatorships
  • Litigation & Dispute Resolution
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