Choosing a person to be the executor of your will and the rest of your estate is one of the most important estate planning decisions you will make. However, too many people – particularly those who don’t have a spouse — tend to choose one of their children, siblings or friends to serve as executor.
They may be the best person for the job – or they may not be. Close family members don’t always make the best executors. For one thing, they’ll likely be dealing with their own grief and not in a position to take on the responsibilities and decisions that are required.
The job entails a multitude of responsibilities
There’s a lot more to do besides make sure your assets are distributed as you designated. They’ll need to pay bills, file tax returns, deal with the probate court, manage disputes among beneficiaries and numerous other tasks large and small. Executors are generally paid a portion of the estate because it’s a job.
It’s always a good idea to broaden your search a bit – at least for an alternate executor in case the one you name can’t do it. Let’s look at some of the important qualities you would want to consider. Ideally, an executor should be someone who:
- Is responsible and organized
- Has a clean financial record of their own (California requires executors to be bonded.)
- Is ideally younger than you (or at least has sufficient capacity and experience to handle the job)
- Is able and willing to deal firmly but tactfully with pressure from loved ones as well as third parties like creditors and ensure that your wishes are carried out
An executor doesn’t have to live nearby. However, if they don’t, it’s best if they’re able to travel. They may have to maintain and otherwise deal with your home and other property. They’ll need to make sure everything is secure until it can be sold or otherwise distributed.
You may want to consider a professional
If you don’t have friends or family who fit the bill or whom you want to ask to take on such a large responsibility, there are professionals you can hire. Financial institutions often have trust departments, for example. There are also private professional fiduciaries who are often hired to handle estate administrations.
It’s a lot to think about. Just make sure that you have the permission of whomever you designate and that they understand what it entails. Remember that thorough estate planning with sound legal guidance can help make your executor’s job easier and leave less room for mistakes that could derail your legacy.