How do you choose an executor/trustee?
What is an executor (also known as a trustee)? It’s the person you appoint to carry out your Will or Trust. The executor/trustee, sometimes called an estate representative, is responsible for managing your estate from the time of death until everything you own is distributed. It’s a time-consuming job and one that requires making complex financial and at times emotional decisions.
Can everybody perform the duties that are needed? Here are some characteristics to consider.
Is the person you choose to settle your estate well organized and capable of handling financial matters? They should also have good communication and research skills, and should be valued by your heirs as someone who is trustworthy and diplomatic. Often people decide a spouse, sibling, child or close friend will be the best choice.
When you have made your choice based on the capability of the potential executor, having an executor in the same locality and state can be helpful. Court appearances, property issues and even checking mail can be simplified by proximity.
Your executor or trustee will have a legal responsibility to:
- Go through your home, find possessions and identify assets and debts
- Open an estate checking account
- Probate the Will (if applicable)
- Liquidate assets as directed by the Will or Trust (if applicable)
- Look at all your financial statements, pay bills and taxes
- Notify beneficiaries of their interest in the estate
- Apply for your life insurance and/or employee benefits
- Distribute bequests to heirs
- Close the estate account
Whomever you choose, discuss your decision with that person. Make sure the individual understands and accepts the obligation—and knows where you keep important records. Because the person may pre-decease you—or have a change of heart about executing your wishes—it’s always a good idea to name one or two alternative or successor executors, just in case the first person is unwilling or unable to serve.
If your estate is complex or trusted family and friends are not available due to ability or physical limitations, the option to use professional trust services is available. These businesses will charge a fee, which would be paid by the estate. In some families, singling out one child or sibling as executor could be construed as favoritism, so naming an outside party may be a good alternative.
The period following the death of a loved one is a stressful time and can be confusing for family members. Choosing the right executor or trustee can help ensure that the distribution of your assets may be done efficiently and with as little upheaval as possible. Remember that your executor/trustee will have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the assets of your estate. Be sure you select your executor/trustee wisely.