You’re working on your will, congratulations! You’ve decided who’s going to get the family parrot and who will inherit your stamp collection. There’s a plan for all of your assets and your children.
The next question, though, is who should be in charge of ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your will. That person is called an executor—and although choosing an executor is often an afterthought, it’s actually an important consideration that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Here are some of the things that an executor does:
- Distributes assets according to the will. In practical terms, this means that if you have three children and one of your children is the executor, he or she will have a lot of control over whether or not your assets are distributed equally among the children, if that was your explicit wish;
- Maintaining any property until the estate is settled. If, for example, you own a home and your heirs plan to sell the home, the executor of your estate is responsible for ensuring that any maintenance gets taken care of, as well as hiring a real estate agents and taking care of the entire sale process;
- Paying bills for the estate. The executor has to pay your cable bill and your electricity bill; he or she also has to file your taxes;
- Going to court for the estate. If there is anything that is contested, your executor will have to go to court and represent your wishes there.
Choosing an executor:
From a legal perspective, an executor can be any adult. Most people choose a close family member, like a spouse, sibling or adult children. However, we all know that not all adults are equally capable of “adulting.” Here are some essential qualities that an executor should have:
- Honesty. You need to be able to trust your executor. He or she will have a lot of power over whether or not your assets are distributed as you wished them to be, so it should be an honest, trustworthy person.
- Organizational skills. Handling an estate is complicated. You need to trust that the executor will not only take care of things ethically, but also competently. He or she will need to be mindful of deadlines, make sure bills are paid on time and be able to manage the paperwork involved in settling an estate.
- Socially savvy. Who you choose as an executor can have ramifications for the family dynamics long after the estate is settled. If you have three children and none of them are very good at managing their relationship with each other, you might consider asking a third party to be the executor to preserve your kids’ relationship with each other.
There’s some other practical considerations, too. It’s better to choose an executor who lives locally, because he or she will be responsible for managing property and/or making court appearances. My sister and I are both equally capable of managing an estate, but my mom choose me as her executor—a decision that both my sister and I would agree was wise, since I lived in my mom’s house and my sister lived across the country. In addition, handling an estate can take time. If you’re trying to decide between two people, choose the one who has less demands on his or her time.
Whatever you decide, make sure you include an executor in your will, so that your heirs and others know who has the right to manage accounts on your behalf. As the executor of my mom’s estate, I’ve had to present a copy of her will on countless occasions to close accounts, get information or pay bills. If the will didn’t include an executor provision, managing all of those things would be substantially more difficult.
Though it can often be a difficult choice, choosing an executor can give you peace of mind that a family member or friend will have everything handled.