Maybe you thought that a member of your immediate family — perhaps your spouse or oldest child — would serve as the executor of your estate. Or you may have planned for a close friend to handle these duties. But the person you assumed would be the obvious choice turned out not to be the best one for the job.
Notably, choosing the “wrong” executor could cause a multitude of problems. For example, missteps by this person could lead to financial or logistical troubles. He or she may make mistakes that hinder the probate process or jeopardize estate planning benefits. And the executor might make decisions that defeat your intentions.
Even worse, an executor’s actions could create friction within your family and result in legal squabbles. It might even split the family apart for good.
So, how do you pick the “right” person for the role of executor? First, be sure that your top choice is willing to provide the services required. While your spouse may be the best choice, it’s also important that he or she know that tasks may be delegated. The executor is ultimately responsible for ensuring that your wishes are carried out appropriately, and such responsibility would include relying on experts as needed.
To the extent that you wish to choose someone other than your spouse, you’ll reduce the potential for confusion if you choose someone with financial acumen. The person doesn’t have to be a professional executor, but it helps if he or she has the smarts needed to perform these duties. Finally, pick someone who’s familiar with your affairs or can easily be brought up to speed.
Be sure to review the executor and trustee designation in your existing estate documents. While your children were young, you may have chosen a trusted family friend or one of your professional advisors. This person may have retired or no longer wish to serve in the event of your death or incapacity. Your children may now be grown and capable of assuming the role of executor or trustee.
Also, when you have several children, choose wisely. You need to understand that choosing one or two children to act as executors, could cause dissension with the other siblings. Many siblings would not like the idea that their sister or brother will control the parent’s assets.
While you still may choose a relative, consider using a professional, especially if he or she is a trusted member of your estate planning team. At the very least, consider naming a professional as the successor or contingent executor.