Helping Clients Pick the Right Executor
You are nearing retirement and have created a living will, given power of attorney and written a conventional will. Great, you are ahead of the game. There’s one more step that needs to be taken care of to ensure that everything is in order when you are gone — and that’s to name an executor of your estate.
Who you choose as executor can make all the difference as to whether your wishes are followed and everything is done properly. As advisors, we can help our clients navigate this decision and vet the candidates they have in mind.
Simply put, an executor administers the estate and is in charge until it’s legally closed, The New York Times reports. It’s a big responsibility, and the choice should not be made lightly.
No small task
When someone dies, his will must be admitted to probate. After that, The Times says, the estate has to pay creditors and taxes, and then the beneficiaries get their share of what’s left. If there is an estate tax audit or the will is contested, the executor will oversee that process, too. The job can last for a couple of years — or even more.
Practically speaking, an attorney or financial professional is a sound choice. If you are not close to someone with those skills, using a common-sense friend or relative is a good way to go, says AARP. Although this person can perform most duties, she’ll know when she’s in over her head and ask for expert help.
Most people, of course, put a family member — often an adult child — in charge of their estate. The advantage to that, The Times says, is that this person presumably knows your intentions well and can readily find the assets that need to be inventoried.
Beware of naming several children as co-executors. It’s a recipe for disaster, and they’ll likely wind up fighting over the estate.
Line of succession
Once you settle on your executor, there’s more work to be done. You need to pick backup executors to step in if your first choice is unable or unwilling to perform.
If you name an elderly relative or friend as executor, you might outlive him or her. If there is no line of succession, the court will appoint an executor, and there’s no guarantee this person will distribute the assets exactly as you had planned.
A smart way to cut costs is to limit the amount that goes through probate, The Times reports. Life insurance, savings bonds, retirement accounts, real estate and jointly held bank and brokerage accounts don’t have to go through probate. And thus they don’t count in calculating an executor’s fee. Assets put into a revocable trust don’t go through probate, either.
If you divorce, you will want to change your will if you named an ex-spouse as executor. If they should remarry and the new spouse has kids, you won’t want an executor treating your biological children as second-class citizens, so someone neutral is a good pick. In a second marriage, AARP says, that’s probably preferred.
In short, as with many end-of-life planning, we encourage our clients to revisit choices after major life changes to make sure their wishes are followed.
If you have a specific case or a question, don’t hesitate to call our office.