Serving as someone’s executor or personal representative under a Last Will and Testament can be a HUGE job, and may not be right for the faint of heart. Although nomination is commonly considered an honor, there is a lot of work involved, and an executor must have a great capacity for organization, attention to detail, the ability to meet deadlines, and more. You may be tempted to name your favorite sibling or eldest child just to keep from hurting any feelings, but your family and heirs will not be well served if you choose your executor based on emotion rather than ability.
Keeping this in mind, here are 4 things to consider when choosing your executor or personal representative:
- Your executor should be trustworthy. Your executor will be privy to all of your financial secrets: reviewing estate assets, determining your liabilities and paying off creditors, settling outstanding debts, and making distributions to heirs. Chances are you don’t want all that information spread throughout the family or community.
- Your executor should be organized. The person you choose will be in charge of a number of detailed tasks, both large and small. He or she will be making lists of assets, working with your attorney to meet court deadlines, making timely distributions for estate taxes, and more. Missing or being late for one of these many steps can draw out the entire process, costing your heirs both time and money.
- Your executor should be financially savvy. One of the responsibilities of executor is to keep the estate viable (making sure the mortgage and fees continue to be paid) during the probate process. If you have investment accounts you’ll want to ensure they won’t languish and lose their value before they can be distributed to your heirs.
- Your executor should have heart. Although probate is a can be a difficult and detailed process, it is at its core about the people you love. Your executor should have the ability to be caring and compassionate during this emotional time.
If you don’t know anybody you would trust with all of these responsibilities don’t lose faith, there are other options. For example, you can choose a bank or financial institution as your executor, or you can ask your estate planning attorney to recommend a professional fiduciary. The goal is to find someone who will serve you well and work with your attorney to ensure a smooth probate for all involved. Another approach is to create and fund a trust, where the duties after your demise would be handled by your Successor Trustee. However, many of the same concerns that apply to your Executor (if you only have a Will) also apply to your Trustee. Talk to your attorney about choices and the difference between administering a probate estate created by a Last Will and Testament, on the one hand, versus a trust estate created by a Trust, on the other. You may find the talk very helpful.