First and foremost, just because you have been named in someone’s Will as the Executor of their Estate does not mean that you are automatically the Executor as soon as that person has died. Being named in someone’s Will as their Executor only means that you have been nominated. The probate court must appoint you as the Executor before you have legal power to pay that person’s bills and distribute their money and property. You cannot do that without the probate court’s approval first.
The same thing is true with respect to a person’s Will. Just because someone has created and signed their Will, does not mean that everything automatically goes to everyone named in the Will as soon as that person has died. The probate court, first, must review your Will and issue an Order declaring your Will to be your last Will and that the Will meets or satisfies all the legal requirements. This is called “validating” the Will. Without that process, a Will is just an important document that has no true legal effect on anyone, including whoever has been nominated as Executor or anyone who is supposed to receive money or property through the Will.
In New Hampshire, in order for your Will to be validated and have any legal effect a Will must be filed with the probate court. That job usually falls on the Executor. Next, in order for your Executor to have the legal right to pay off the bills or debts of the person who died and to transfer that person’s property as written in the Will, the probate court administration process must be started and completed. New Hampshire law states that the person you nominated as the Executor of your Estate must initiate the administration process, account for all your property and pay all your debts in the order that state law says that debts get paid. All of this must happen before anyone receives any of your money or property – even if your Will says they get it.
Therefore, the person you “nominate” in your Will to be your Executor must be a person who will follow the law, be good with paying bills, and be a fair person. As surprising or as harsh as it might sound, the right person to be your Executor, might not be your spouse or might not be the family member, friend, or old classmate with whom you have shared a lot of fun times. Who you nominate in your Will to be your Executor will, ultimately, be the person you will be able to rely on to do what the probate laws say has to be done, so your debts get paid and makes sure that the people who you wanted to get your money and property actually become the legal owners of that stuff.
If the person you nominated in your Will to be your Executor does not follow the probate laws and court rules, the probate court can find him or her in violation of those laws and fine them. When your Will and your Estate go through the probate administration process, it also “closes the courthouse doors” (usually a specific number of years) to anyone who might think that you owed them money, if they fail to seek repayment after the legal deadline. If your Will and Estate never go through the administration process, the courthouse doors remain open and the people you wanted to receive your money and property really do not have a clear right to any of those things.