You’ve gone through the estate planning process with an estate planning lawyer. You have a last will and testament in place, and your primary pick for an executor is the perfect person for the role. But then the unthinkable happens. Your first choice passes away (or becomes incapacitated). What not? What should you do if your executor dies? Well, that depends.
Generally speaking, when you create and execute a will, you will likely name several people as potential Executors in successive order. Primary, then Alternate, then Second Alternate, etc., for as many individuals or entities (corporate fiduciaries) as you deem appropriate. Some people have many people named, and some people have few (or only 1).
When the primary executor dies, the alternate executor will then become the primary, and the second alternate will become the alternate, by operation of law. Nothing else is generally needed to be done from a legal standpoint. If a named executor dies, the person named after them simply moves up in order.
However, if your intentions have changed (you no longer want the alternate to be involved) or if you only named one Executor, you’ll want to revise your plan. Death is a great reason to reevaluate your estate plan, and the death of such an important fiduciary definitely warrants a review.
The death of the primary executor can make your alternates reconsider their commitment to carrying out your plan after you’re gone. It’s important to determine, somewhat frequently, whether or not your important named people (like Executors) are still willing to play a role in your plan. If not, a revision to remove them will be very important.