One of the most important estate planning decisions you can make, or help your clients make, is choosing an executor for your will. As succinctly put in an ABA article (.pdf): “The most important thing is that you pick someone who is financially responsible, stable, and trustworthy.”
In most cases, the person named as executor in the will is appointed by the court to administer the estate. Although an executor usually hires an attorney to help carry out his or her duties, the executor is ultimately responsible for the proper administration of the estate, and the executor’s conduct determines the efficiency, integrity, and sensitivity with which the estate administration proceeds. In addition, the executor is often also named as the successor trustee of any living trust. This all makes it very important that you thoroughly consider potential nominees.
In addition to being personally reliable and pragmatic, the nominee should have the capacity and temperament to:
- Cope physically and emotionally with the tasks of estate administration.
- Work with professionals such as attorneys, tax preparers, and investment counsel.
- Deal constructively with beneficiaries and family members. (If there are intrafamily conflicts, certain nominees may not be appropriate.)
- Maintain clear records of estate transactions, manage estate assets, or supervise others in doing so.
Given the importance of the job, you should discuss your decision with the nominee and be sure that he or she is willing to take it on. And just in case, always name a successor executor. Yes, you need to come up with a second excellent choice for this crucial job!
For everything you need to know on selecting an executor, go to CEB’s California Will Drafting, chap 32 (3d ed Cal CEB 1992).
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