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A wills and estates lawyer I interviewed several years back had a surprisingly direct response when I asked her how someone should respond when asked to be an executor for a family member’s or friend’s estate.

“Say, ‘No thanks,’” the lawyer said. And she wasn’t joking. Being an executor is hard work, often with no compensation. It could take months or years to settle someone’s estate. Plus, you have to deal with family members about a deceased person’s assets. Just ask an estates lawyer some time about how those conversations can go.

Adviser’s Edge, a publication for financial professionals, recently published an article under the headline “Do executors have to accept the role?” A lawyer quoted in the article says that serving as an executor is “neither an honour nor an obligation,” which raises a question: How do you politely but firmly decline someone’s invitation to be their executor?

For help on this, I consulted David Edey, author of a book called Executor Help: How to Settle an Estate, Pick an Executor and Avoid Family Fights. Here’s a response he has used himself when a friend asked him to be his executor: “I’m truly honoured that you would consider me for such an important role. However, given my age and the commitment the job requires, I wouldn’t want to take on this responsibility later in life.”

One to use if you feel you’d be way out of your depth: “I believe it’s important for you to have the best possible executor. Have you considered speaking with a good friend or someone you think could accept the responsibility in your family? I want to support you in any way I can, but I don’t think I’m the best fit for the role of executor.”

And one more to use when you want to avoid family-related complications: “I value our relationship and I want to avoid any potential conflicts that could arise during the settling of your estate. By me being your executor and knowing your family dynamics, I don’t think it would be a good idea. I know it would upset a lot of people in your family. It might be better to choose someone who is not as closely connected to the family to ensure objectivity.”

Mr. Edey suggests being empathetic and understanding in these conversations because declining a request to be an executor can be a sensitive matter.

More on being an executor:

-Questions to ask if you accept the role of executor

-A Q&A about the executor’s role

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