- Name a Guardian
- Name an Executor
- Who Gets What?
- Hold On or Give it Away?
- Write It Down
- Property Title Issues
You have the right to appoint a person and/or a company to supervise all the tasks that have to get done to wrap up your estate after you die. This person is called the "executor." In some older estate plans, a woman appointed to this position was called an "executrix." We will use the term "executor" for both male and female appointees.
For even the simplest estate, you should appoint an executor in your will. The role of the executor is an important one, and you should be the person who selects this individual.
Your executor may have to do the following important tasks:
- Collect assets and prepare statements for the court
- Decide on the recipient of specific personal belongings (if, in your will, you don't specifically say to whom an asset is to be given)
- Collect money owed, and pay bills
- Collect on insurance policies
- File income and estate tax returns
- Supervise the distribution of assets to people named in the will
- Control and protect assets while the estate is being reviewed by the court
- Sell assets to pay debts, taxes, or to give cash to people named in the will
- Hire attorneys and accountants to help with these responsibilities
If you do not appoint an executor, the courts will choose someone to serve as an administrator of the estate. The court-appointed administrator is usually a local attorney and has the same duties as an executor. The attorney will charge your estate for his or her services, and may not be familiar with your wishes and desires. You owe it to your family to preserve as much of your estate for them as possible and to make sure assets are distributed as quickly as possible by someone who understands your affairs.
Whom Should You Name as Executor?
There are two important criteria you should use in selecting your executor: trustworthiness and ordinary good business sense.
The first test. Ask yourself whether the person and/or company is trustworthy to do everything to protect your loved ones after your death. There is insurance that can be purchased to provide for the survivors' protection if the executor steals from the estate. However, to make sure this doesn't happen, and to have an active advocate for your survivors, select carefully.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If your estate has any complexities, consider using a bank or trust company as an executor, co-executor, or trustee.
The second test. Good business sense. Your executor will probably have to work with attorneys, accountants, bankers, insurance companies, stock brokers and maybe even your business partners (if you or your spouse have a business interest). A person, no matter how trustworthy and well-intentioned, who is inexperienced in business, may be unable to understand the advice given by these business people. Therefore, many situations require an experienced bank or trust company as your executor.
A word of caution: the executor will have a lot of tasks to fulfill immediately after your death. A very close family member who will be paralyzed by grief may be incapable of supervising these actions.
If you choose an individual as executor of your estate, choose:
- Someone who is very close to you, such as a family member, close friend, or trusted business associate.
- Someone who is extremely honest and trustworthy.
- Someone who will not be too emotionally distraught by your death.
- Someone with whom you have discussed this appointment and will accept the position when you die.
- Someone you expect will be available to serve. Do not pick people who live far away or who will be under a lot of other pressures (e.g., your son in medical school or your friend in the military who is stationed overseas).
- Someone who completely understands your financial and personal circumstances. This person should have strong positive feelings about your family and other survivors.
- Someone who has experience dealing with business matters.
- Someone who will not be put in a position of conflicting interest (e.g., a child who will have to make decisions that may benefit him or her at the expense of other siblings, or a business partner who will be voting with your percentage and his or her own).
- Someone who is not significantly older than you or in ill health. Although you will name alternates, try to pick people who will be able to serve well into the future.
SUGGESTION: Always appoint at least two back-up or alternate individuals to serve as your executor. You never know if you will live longer than your first choice if you choose an individual. As an extra step, consider naming a local bank or other organization as co-executor or backup executor. Remember, the last thing you want is the courts to pick someone for you.