How to Change the Executor of a Will

By Cindy DeRuyter

How to Change the Executor of a Will

By Cindy DeRuyter

When you create a last will and testament, you name someone to serve as your personal representative. Some states refer to this role as the executor or administrator of your estate. This person has the authority and responsibility to settle and distribute your estate after you die. There are many reasons to change your personal representative and name someone else. In order to do so, you must either create a codicil to your existing will or create a new will that replaces the old one.

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Role of the Personal Representative

The personal representative role comes with a lot of responsibility, so it's important to put considerable thought into your choice. They safeguard your assets, notifies creditors and other interested parties of your death, pays valid debts and claims, handles tax reporting obligations, and distributes assets as provided in your will. If your estate needs to go through probate court, your personal representative is responsible for handling that process as well.

Spouses often name each other in this role. It's also common to name an adult child, another relative, or a close family friend. There are also professional fiduciaries, including independent fiduciary service providers and trust departments of banks or other financial institutions, who serve in this role for a fee.

Understand that you cannot obligate anyone to serve as your personal representative. You can nominate someone in your will, but that person or organization can decline to serve. You may want to name one or more successors or alternate personal representatives in your will, in case the person or company named first declines or is unable to serve.

Using a Codicil vs. Creating a New Will

When you decide to make a change to the personal representative in your will, you have the following two choices:

  • Create a codicil, which is essentially an amendment to your will. With a codicil, you keep the old will but add to it, identifying the sections or paragraphs being changed and providing new language for those sections.
  • Prepare a new will to replace the old one. Some people prefer to take this approach because it doesn't leave a paper trail showing that you had initially named someone else in the original will.

Whichever route you take to change your will, you must make the changes in a way that complies with your state's laws. For example, don't cross out the original personal representative's name and simply write in someone else's name.

Generally speaking, the legal formalities you must follow are the same whether you create a codicil or start over with a new will. In most states, you need witnesses to watch you signing the codicil to your will and attest to having done so, and you may also need a notary public's signature.

Finally, it's good practice to notify the person originally named as your personal representative that you've changed your mind, if they are still alive and competent, and to notify the new person you named in your codicil or new will. Although not required, this step can help avoid unnecessary tension and confusion after your death.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.