How do I choose an executor?

What is an executor?

An executor is the person who is given legal power to execute the financial directives you outline in your will. You can either name a specific person to carry out these responsibilities, or allow the court to name someone on your behalf.

What does the job entail?

An executor is typically tasked with ensuring your assets are distributed in accordance with your will, making court appearances on behalf of your estate, paying taxes and bills, and maintaining property until the estate is settled.

Who pays for it?

The money to pay bills and perform these duties, which may include attorney’s expenses, is provided by your estate itself. For example, the money in your bank accounts and other financial holdings will be used to pay funeral expenses and bills before remaining funds are distributed to your heirs. You can provide for compensation to the executor in your will.

Who should I choose?

Most people choose a close family member, such as a spouse, child, brother or sister. However, you can choose just about anyone to carry out your last wishes. As long as your will is clearly written, no special legal or financial acumen is required to be an executor.

What qualities should I consider?

When choosing an executor for your will, the following qualities are most important:

Honesty

Obviously, you need a trustworthy person to carry out your will — someone who will do the right thing and follow your wishes, even if they might not agree with your decisions. Choose someone you trust.

Organization

A certain degree of organization is required to administer a will. Selecting an executor who is orderly and reliable can ensure your assets are handled in a timely manner.

Proximity

It can be difficult for your executor to make court appearances, maintain property, check mail, and complete other routine tasks if they live a great distance from you. When choosing an executor for your will, look for someone who lives close, so that distance won’t be a problem.

Willingness

Make sure the person you assign as executor is willing to complete the task. The easiest way to do this? Ask them ahead of time.

Ability

Your executor must not only be willing, but able. Because wills may be created years or decades before you die, it is possible that the person you choose as executor today might not be willing or able to administer your last wishes after you pass. That’s why it’s a good idea to name an alternate executor in your will. In the event that both parties are unable to execute your will, you can update your will at any time to name a new executor.

Direct Benefit

It’s advisable that your executor also be a beneficiary of your will. While this might sound counterintuitive (Shouldn’t you choose a neutral party?), there’s actually a good reason to do so. If the person who executes your will has a direct interest in its distribution, they are more likely to take care of things in a timely manner. And, if you’ve selected someone trustworthy and honest, you need not worry about them acting against your wishes.

Relationship

Choosing an executor is a practical decision, but it can have emotional consequences. To avoid hurt feelings, talk to your loved ones in advance about who you wish to administer of your estate. For example, you might follow tradition by choosing your spouse first, followed by your first-born child. Or, you might talk to your heirs about why you chose to do things differently. You could say something like, "I would trust any one of you to execute my will, but since Mary lives closest and her children are all grown, she has volunteered to take over this duty. Is that all right with everyone?"

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