It's much easier to decline to act as executor before you take office, but it may be possible to resign after you take office under some circumstances.
Finding out you’ve been named as executor in someone’s will might leave you feeling torn. After all, it’s an honor, isn’t it? Someone trusted you implicitly to carry out his last wishes and accurately deal with the financial details of his estate. But honor aside, it’s a tough, time-consuming job that -- in some cases -- could last for years. If you decide you want out of the commitment, courts offer you that option, but it’s much easier to make that decision before you officially accept the office.
Declining the Nomination
Declining the nomination is usually quite simple if you act immediately. You can renounce the position by signing and filing a simple form with the probate court before you accept letters testamentary and the authority to act for the estate. Many states offer renunciation forms online; you can also ask the court for one or what protocol to follow.
Naming Your Successor
What happens after you renounce your nomination depends on the rules in your state and the terms of the will. If the deceased nominated an alternate or successor executor, that individual takes over in your stead. Otherwise, the deceased’s next of kin is typically entitled to petition the court for appointment to act as executor.
An estate is said to be intestate when someone dies without leaving a valid will. The court will appoint an administrator or personal representative in this case, typically the surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased. If this is you, and you really don’t want to serve, you can simply inform the court of your decision. Some states may allow you to nominate someone else to act in your place. In others, the court will work from a statutory list of who has a legal right to serve. Spouses are usually the first choice, followed by the deceased’s children, parents, siblings, grandchildren or other next of kin. One of the deceased's creditors might also serve if no one else is willing to take on the job.
Resigning From the Position
The law firm of Nancy Burner and Associates in New York indicates you might be stuck, at least for a while, if you decide you don’t want the job after you’ve accepted the appointment. You must file a motion with the court asking to be relieved of your duties, and it can take some time before the judge makes a decision. You’ll need good cause -- a logical and provable reason why you can’t continue as executor. Maybe you’ve suffered a medical condition since you took office, and acting as executor has become too much for you. Or, you might have lost your job and need to devote all of your time to finding a new position.
In some states, the court can reject your plea and require that you remain in office. At the very least, you may have to submit a detailed accounting of all financial transactions you’ve made on behalf of the estate so far, and you'll have to remain in place until all of the estate's beneficiaries approve your resignation.