Writing an estate plan is the first step toward securing property and making sure your wishes are carried out. When the plan is done, there’s still one vital step to making sure that your will is carried out as you want: choosing an executor. In short, the executor of an estate is the one who makes decisions after you’re gone.
As Kiplinger puts it, “When you pass away and your will is accepted for probate, your executor…can perform all the legal tasks you used to do.”
These duties include:
- Collecting all of your assets
- Distributing those assets as the will says
- Paying off debt, bills and applicable taxes
- Raising funds to pay these debts, including by selling property
- Handling court responsibilities for the estate
People often choose a spouse, siblings, children or a neutral third party to handle this role.
How to make the choice
There are several factors to consider in choosing an executor. It’s important that the executor is level-headed and able to separate emotions from finances. Generally, you want someone who is honest, responsible with money, and who is trustworthy.
There are more issues to think about, though, such as if your executor will have the time to handle your estate to their best ability. Where they live, their age, and their health status will influence their ability to do the job. An adult child who lives across the country may have all the right characteristics—it is possible to handle many duties from afar—but you may want somebody who can visit the local courthouse and talk to your bank in person.
One never knows the future, but if your family is prone to dramatic situations or if you expect challenges between heirs, hiring a neutral third party for the role can be beneficial. There is less potential for a conflict of interest in choosing a neutral voice. If you have two siblings who just can’t see eye-to-eye, choosing one of them as an executor will aggravate the situation. While you should also think about these conflicts when writing an estate plan, the more steps you take to reduce infighting, the better.
Keeping up with life changes
An estate plan is never final. It’s important to revisit your plan every few years in case of life changes, changes of heart and to manage new property acquired. At this time, also consider your choice of executor to make sure that they are still the best pick for the job. It’s also wise to have an alternate in mind, should something happen to your first choice or if they decline the honor.
It’s natural to have questions about the estate planning process. It’s wise to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney to help you make the right decisions to protect your property and your loved ones from unnecessary conflict.