Choosing an Executor for Your Estate

Choosing an Executor for Your Estate

How to find the right person to manage your estate

Trusting an individual to handle your personal and financial dealings after your death is not a decision to take lightly. Known as an executor, this person will be in charge of your estate’s administrative affairs until it is legally closed. This is a large responsibility, often encompassing legal duties, handling family dynamics and deciphering legal documents. Needless to say, you’ll want someone trustworthy and competent. But how exactly do you go about choosing? Here’s a checklist, so you can rest assured you’ve found the best executor to handle your estate.

Organization

  • Does this person file their income tax returns on time? A lawyer in Virginia tells the New York Times this is one easy way to gauge your potential executor’s organization skills.
  • Are they good with paperwork? Think about their career, and how organization and paperwork skills might play a role there.

Character

  • Are they honest? This is one of the most important qualifications to consider.
  • Do you trust them? This seems obvious, but really think about if you can trust the person you’re about to name as executor. This person will be responsible for all of your assets, both business-related and personal. They’ll prepare your tax and legal documentation, go through your things, represent you in court, and take inventory of everything you own. It should be someone you know you can trust with your finances, possessions, and wishes.
  • Is this person diplomatic? This skill is especially useful if children or other family members might have issues with your will.

Relationship

  • Is this person a member of your family? Children or other family members are often executors, as they understand your intentions and have easier access to your assets than others.
  • Does this person have a significant interest in your will? This is usually the case with children. If someone is going to inherit money or property, they will have a vested interest in handling your will in a timely and responsible manner.
  • If you’re going to name your offspring, stick with only one child. Naming more than one can become complicated, according to lawyer Carol Cantrell. Name one child and list the others as alternates, then speak to them ahead of time and explain your reasoning.
  • How old is this person? If you’re not naming one of your children as executor, think about the person’s age and whether they will be around long enough to execute your will. If they are your age or older, you might want to reconsider.
  • Are they family by marriage? Say you name your brother-in-law as executor, then he and your sister get divorced. Consider family dynamics and how likely they are to stay the same.
  • If you don’t trust your a family member or friend to execute your will without conflict, consider hiring an impartial paid executor, something the American Bar Association suggests.

Communication

  • Does this person have strong communication skills? This is important for communicating with everyone from lawyers and those in the financial realm, to mourning or agitated family members. Someone who can communicate with a range of people on a range of issues is ideal.

Intelligence

  • Does this person have the ability to understand legal processes and procedures? They don’t need to know these things already, but should be able to learn when the time comes.
  • Common sense can be just as important as legal knowledge. If your executor has the ability to do research, knows when to ask for expert help, and has strong judgment, they’re probably a good pick.

Location

  • Being executor of a will requires court appearances, property inventory and maintenance, checking mail, and other duties that necessitate proximity. Choose an executor who lives near to where the majority of your assets are located.

Are they willing?

  • Of course, before you name someone as your executor, you should ask them if they are willing to take on the role. Some people will not want the responsibility. Lawyer Robin Gorenberg also recommends telling any family members you did not choose, so they don’t feel hurt.

Contingency plan

There is always a chance that something will happen to your executor, or that they won’t be available when needed. You can name a successor, allow your executor to name a successor, or designate a corporate executor or trustee. If you don’t have a backup and one is needed, or if your designated executor declines when the time comes, the court will name an executor for you. That’s why having a backup is important.  

Choosing someone to handle your assets after your death is a big decision, but in thinking through these points, you can rest assured you’ve chosen someone qualified. For assistance in choosing your executor or setting up your estate plan, in general, get in touch with us at Anselmo Lindberg Oliver. We’re always eager to assist you.

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