Choosing an executor or trustee to settle your estate or administer your trust is one of the most important decisions to consider when establishing an estate plan. The executor is responsible for paying your final expenses and debts, and carrying out the terms of your will after your death. Executors and trustees are considered fiduciaries, and are supposed to act in the best interest of the estate and beneficiaries. So what are some of the important things to consider when choosing an executor or trustee?
- Trustworthiness. Probably the most important quality for an executor or trustee to have is trustworthiness. The executor is entrusted with assets you have spent a lifetime accumulating. If there is a concern that someone you are considering as executor may not be able to be trusted to properly handle and account for your assets, then you probably should not name that person.
- Pick someone that can be impartial. Your executor should be someone that can act impartially and treat the beneficiaries fairly. If the executor is someone that is easily influenced, or does not get along with one or more of the beneficiaries, you can almost guarantee there will be problems settling the estate. These problems often cause delays and added expense in the estate administration. If the beneficiaries are family members, but do not get along, it is often better to name a non-family member as executor.
- Name someone that is Organized / Detail Oriented. Good organization skills and attention to detail are critical for an executor or trustee. Even the simplest estates require accurate recordkeeping and reporting. If proper records are not kept, delays can often result. Lack of proper recordkeeping can also lead to liability on the part of the executor.
- Do they have time? The job of an executor can be a lot of work and time consuming. I often hear from my executor clients that they are surprised at how much time and work is involved in settling an estate. If the person you are considering already has a demanding job or other responsibilities that require most of their time, he or she may not be the best choice to settle your estate.
- Consider Age. If you are naming an individual as executor, and not a corporate fiduciary, consider naming at least one person that is younger and likely to outlive you. If the first named executor is a similar age to you, I recommend naming at least one younger alternate to serve in the event your first choice dies before you or is unable to serve.
- Does the person live nearby? An executor is generally not required to live in the same county or state, but the person’s location can be a consideration. If settling your estate requires the sale of real estate or personal property, it can make things easier if the executor lives nearby.
- Get Approval. Be sure to talk to the person and get their approval before naming him or her as executor or trustee. If the person agrees to serve, discuss your financial details and the specific terms of your will and/or trust. Your executor should also know where your important documents are located, along with the contact information of your attorney, accountant and other advisors.
- Consider a Professional. If there isn’t a family member or friend you are comfortable with, consider naming a bank or trust company to settle your estate. Many of the potential challenges and problems that individual executors and trustees can face are often better handled by a professional fiduciary. Professional fiduciaries are almost always better at recordkeeping, acting impartially, and carrying out the terms of the will or trust in a timely manner.