If you’re preparing to put an estate plan in place, one of your most important decisions is your choice of an executor. Your choice of an alternate (and you should name one) is just as important.
Even if you’re planning to choose a close family member, like a spouse or adult child, it’s crucial to choose someone who can handle the responsibilities at a time when they’ll be grieving your loss.
If you don’t have a spouse or children (or don’t think any of them is the best choice), you can choose a close friend you trust with the job. Sometimes when people have multiple adult children, choosing one can create serious family conflict. Having your children be co-executors can also cause problems.
Executor responsibilities and qualities
Before you choose an executor, it’s crucial to understand what the job entails. The person you select also needs to understand it. You should never name an executor without getting their informed agreement. You also need to get your chosen alternate’s agreement before you officially name them.
While every estate is somewhat different, most all executors will need to deal with the following:
- Securing the home and other valuable property until it can be distributed
- Notifying entities that provided benefits (like the Social Security Administration and the VA)
- Freezing accounts and canceling subscriptions and services
- Paying continuing or final bills
- Dealing with the probate court
- Disbursing assets as directed in the estate plan once the estate is settled
- Filing the final income tax returns
A good executor needs to be honest, patient and diplomatic but firm (especially if they have to deal with family). They should be able to multi-task without getting overwhelmed. They don’t have to be an expert in real estate or finances, but they need to be willing to reach out to professionals who are. They should also have a clean financial and legal record since they’ll need to be bonded by the probate court.
It’s a lot to think about. Having experienced legal guidance can help you put an estate plan in place that minimizes complications for your executor and your loved ones when you’re gone.