One of the major decisions you must make when having a will prepared is, "who will be your executor?"

Before making such an important decision, it is a good idea to understand what the duties of an executor are and what kind of qualities you should look for in selecting an executor.

Choosing the right executor can make the process proceed smoothly and in a timely fashion. In contrast, choosing the wrong executor may mean your wishes aren't followed carefully or it takes an extraordinarily long time to settle your estate.

An executor has no duties until you have died. He or she cannot control or handle any of your assets while you are alive.

Once you have died, your executor should meet with your attorney as soon as possible (within a week or two) to discuss the settling of your estate.

Your executor's primary responsibility is to preserve and protect the assets of the estate for the named beneficiaries and to file the required paperwork in an expeditious fashion.

Although an executor is not required to hire an attorney, it is usually a prudent move to do so, especially with our larger, consolidated probate courts.

An executor does not have to hire the attorney who prepared the will; rather, it is more important to hire an attorney who has substantial experience in the estate and probate field.

It is a proper expense of estate administration to pay the expenses of professional advisors, including an attorney, an accountant and a financial advisor, if necessary.

The attorney will explain to your executor the various things needed to be done, a time line for the estate settlement, and he or she will take primary responsibility for seeing these tasks are accomplished.

Choosing an executor who is willing to tend to paperwork and who is fairly well organized and detail-oriented is wise.

It is not as important to have the executor physically close by. To have your estate settled promptly, avoid selecting a procrastinator and avoid choosing co-executors who may disagree.

Although it is customary to have a family member and/or beneficiary serve, sometimes a person with no suitable family member will ask his attorney to serve.

To give you an idea of what is involved, the following is a list of things the executor will be doing:

Find and review the last will and testament;

Order death certificates;

Find most recent bank account statements, investment statements and income tax returns;

Work with attorney to prepare and file all required paperwork with the probate court;

Make sure Social Security is notified;

Notify all life insurance companies of the death;

Contact deceased's insurance agent to continue homeowners' or renters' policy;

If there is real estate, contact professionals to determine a value and if the real estate is to be sold, obtain a Realtor as quickly as possible;

Prepare an inventory of all assets in deceased's name alone, including their values at the date of death;

Review business agreements;

Review and pay the bills;

File individual income tax returns and pay income taxes for the decedent;

Collect credit cards and cancel them (after paying off final balances);

Distribute personal effects;

Review investments and determine how to handle them;

File federal estate tax Form 706 and/or Connecticut estate tax Form CT-706;

Distribute the assets.

The executor is entitled to a fee for performing his/her duties. Often a family member/beneficiary who serves as executor does not take a fee.

If the executor intends to take a fee, it is wise to keep a notebook entering all of the time spent and the particular duties performed.

In Connecticut, all fees must be reviewed and approved by the probate court under a "reasonableness" standard. Some states such as New York have a fee schedule published in the state statutes.

Choosing an executor is one of the most important reasons to have a will. It is a decision that should be made after careful consideration.

Oftentimes, people feel being executor is a "right" or "duty" for the first-born child. It is far better to focus on who possesses the qualities necessary to fulfill the role and ensure your wishes will be followed in a timely way.

Once you have made your decision, you may wish to share it with close family members so others in your family will understand the reasons for your choice.

Barbara W. Reynolds is principal of Barbara W. Reynolds, LLC in New Milford. She was recently selected as a Super Lawyer for 2011 for the fifth consecutive year by her peers in Connecticut.