How to Choose an Executor You Trust For Your Will, Trust or Estate Plan

When you create a new will, living will, or revocable living trust, one of the biggest decisions you will need to make is who to choose as you trusted representative to carry out your wishes. Each of these documents requires that you chose a person or persons who will follow your directions or make decisions on your behalf if you’re not able to.

Choosing this person is a decision that should not be made lightly. In fact, who to choose to serve in these important roles may be one of the biggest decisions of your life.

How to Decide Who to Choose As Your Representative


First, let’s discuss the four basic estate planning documents typically included in an estate plan.

Will

A will is a legal document which contains your wishes and directions as to how your property and assets should be distributed after your death.  In order to be valid, a will must be signed in compliance with the formalities of the state in which it’s signed.

The person who is appointed to carry out the directions in a will is called the executor. A good executor must be adept at handling details, conscientious, and able to navigate the often confusing world of probating a will. Often an executor will need to hire and manage outside experts such as an attorney to handle probate.

Responsibilities of an Executor Include making funeral arrangements, preparing a final tax return, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

Living Will / Advance Healthcare Directive

A living will is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life-prolonging health care or medical treatments if they are unable to speak for his- or herself. It is referred to by different names in different states. In California, the document is known as an Advance Healthcare Directive, while in other states it may be called a living will, health care directive, or a physician’s directive.

The person who is appointed is the healthcare agent. Your agent must make life and death decisions on your behalf, including whether to continue administering medical care if there is no chance of recovery. It is therefore a very important position.

Revocable Living Trust

A trust is an private agreement that a person uses to determine how their property is to be managed and distributed during his or her lifetime and also upon death.  A trust does not replace a will but rather works in compliment with a will.

The person who carries out the directions of the revocable living trust is the trustee. The trustee may have numerous varied responsibilities including harnessing assets, managing assets or a business, and distributing funds to beneficiaries. The role can be so large and time-consuing for larger trusts that sometimes people hire a professional trustee.

Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs

A Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs is a document which provides directions concerning financial decisions. The purpose is to give a trusted spouse, relative, or friend, the authority to managing financial affairs and pay bills while a person is unable to mange their own financial affairs.

The Attorney in Fact is the person who carries out a deceased person’s wishes. Responsibilities can be vast, and it is important to select someone that is trustworthy and capable of doing the job. For this role, it is better to pick someone who is responsible with money rather than simply picking someone because of their family relationship. Someone with business or investment experience is a good choice.

How to Choose Your Representative

Each of these roles is slightly different and requires slightly different skills. However, for the sake of simplicity, we will treat each position as basically the same for the purpose of discussing how to chose your representative. At the heart of each position is the fundamental truth that the representative must be someone who you completely trust to make life decisions on your behalf.

If you are married, your most likely choice for these roles is your spouse. However, if for example your spouse is bad with money, you may want to choose someone else to serve as the Attorney in Fact under the Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs. It is this person’s job, after all, to manage your financial affairs and make financial decisions for you while you are not able to.

A trusted friend, relative, or a professional executor can be appointed as the executor of an estate. Although the executor is required to follow the directions left by the person who died, the executor may have to make judgment calls that were not planned. With more complicated estates, a professional executor may be better to able to handle the responsibilities.

When deciding who to chose for these roles, you should take these factors into account:

Local Representative

It is a good idea to select a person who resides in the local area.  An out-of-state executor may find it more difficult to work with heirs and file paperwork in court.

Financial or Business Experience

You may want to appoint someone with financial or business skills who is good at handling numerous details.

Individuals often want to appoint their children to serve equally in every role in order to avoid being seen as “playing favorites”. However, you may want to delegate certain roles to certain children based on their professions or temperment. For example, if a parent has two kids and one is an accountant and the other is a carpenter, they may want to chose the accountant as executor or attorney in fact.

Ability to Work with Others

Often the person selected for these rules becomes the de facto liaison to the rest of the family. You want to be sure to chose someone who gets along with and can work well with all of the rest of the family members. The job of distributing the estate is a very sensitive one, and family members can feel hurt if the executor does not do a good job of communicating with the family members while they’re all waiting for probate to be completed.

Are They Willing to Take On the Role?

Before appointing someone as your representative, remember to ask them if they are willing to accept the responsibility. It is a big responsibility, and they probably have other things keeping them busy. You want to be sure you don’t appoint someone who will decline when it comes time to serve.

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Recommended Reading:

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  3. How to Get Divorced On A Dime

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