When you sit down to hammer out your estate plan, you have a lot of important decisions to make. In addition to where you want your assets to go, you also have to make healthcare decisions for yourself and try to foresee all possible eventualities.
In the midst of all of that, arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is who to name as the executor (also known as a personal representative) of your estate. The executor is the person who will take your estate through the probate process, which is no small task.
How do you choose the right person for the job?
What an executor does
The executor is the person who administers your estate and follows your directions as spelled out in your Will and represents your estate, after your death, from the beginning to the end of probate process. Their primary responsibility is to gather all of your assets, such as real properties, intangibles such as bank accounts, investment accounts, 401 k plans, IA accounts, stocks, safe deposit box etc., and then inventory all assets that are in your name alone, without beneficiary designations. Your executor will need to figure out if you have creditors, provide them with notice, and arrange for filing and payment of your income taxes, as well as finding out if you filed and paid taxes prior to that time. Prior to the closing of the probate, the assets on hand have to be distributed to your named beneficiaries as set forth in your Will after deductions of debts, executor compensation and attorney fees.
The executor will have to figure out how much your debts are, if a creditor has priority over another and then pay those amounts out of your estate if appropriate. If anyone brings a legal action against your estate, your executor will have to hire legal counsel and defend it on your behalf.
Traits of a good executor
First and foremost, an executor should be someone who is responsible and dependable. They will have a huge responsibility, with many people counting on them, and they will have to meet strict court deadlines.
If you can, choose someone who has a good relationship with your beneficiaries, and who they trust. Choosing a trusted individual will make it less likely that any beneficiaries will decide to challenge their administration of your estate.
Whether you name your spouse, one of your children, a sibling or a close friend, it’s a good idea to inform your chosen person of their designation. The role of executor should not come as a surprise to anyone, and by telling them in advance you can give them the opportunity to ask you questions and clear up any ambiguity while you are still alive.