Too often, people put a lot of time and thought into developing a comprehensive estate plan but give little thought to choosing an executor. If they’re married, they typically choose their spouse. If they’re widowed or divorced, they often choose an adult child. If they don’t have any close family members, they may choose a friend.
Any of these people may be the best ones for the job – or they might be in over their heads when it comes time to take it on. Choosing an executor is one of the most important estate planning decisions you’ll make – even if your plan leaves little room for confusion or error. Selecting someone simply for their proximity to you can be a big mistake. So can trying to make everyone happy and choosing multiple executors (like all your children).
As much as you love your family, they may not all be the most organized, conscientious people under the best of circumstances. They’d be taking on this job at a time when they’ll be grieving. It’s important to understand what the job entails and determine who can best handle it. It’s also crucial to make sure the person you choose understands the job and feels able to handle it.
Executor responsibilities and traits
Even if you’ve structured your estate plan to avoid probate, there are still numerous executor responsibilities. These involve more than handing out assets. They include:
- Paying final bills and debts
- Filing final income tax returns and possibly dealing with estate taxes
- Securing property such as the home until it can be sold or disbursed to the beneficiary
- Dealing patiently but firmly with heirs and other beneficiaries
- Seeing that the terms of the estate documents are followed
That’s why you want someone who is trustworthy, responsible and has some knowledge of how finances, real estate and other assets work. However, they should know when they need to reach out for financial, tax, legal and other professional assistance.
If you’ll likely have multiple surviving family members, you’ll want someone who will have the respect of the others. They will also need to obtain an executor bond, so it’s wise to choose someone with a clean legal and financial record. If no one seems to be the right fit, you may want to consider a professional executor. With experienced legal guidance, you can better make the right choice for you and your family.