The executor of your will is the individual you appoint to guide your estate through the probate process, which is the court proceedings by which a judge supervises the division of your estate. Commonly called a Personal Representative, this fiduciary will see to it that your wishes are carried out and that the instructions you leave in your will are followed. But make sure your affairs are in order with a properly drafted plan; attorney John O. McManus points out in this Daily Finance article that “a common adage in the industry is to name your enemy as your executor as a means of revenge.” Being an executor can be a tough job.
First and foremost, if you are married, you should consider appointing your spouse as your executor. Your spouse has the biggest stake in your life and your death, and it makes sense that he or she is in control of the finances. Your spouse is also most likely to be the person around whom the rest of your family — such as children and your surviving siblings — will revolve at your passing. Strong family relationships are an important consideration for an executor.
If you do not want to appoint an immediate relative or your spouse, you might want to consider someone you know with an accounting or law background. The settlement of an estate is a legal process that may require some tax knowledge. If your executor does not have this background, he or she can always hire a professional.
Be careful when appointing an executor who is also getting some of your assets — there is an inherent conflict of interest when you appoint an executor who is also a beneficiary. If the individual is trustworthy and enjoys good relationships with the other beneficiaries, this may not be a problem. But it’s a situation where disputes can be common; after all, the executor is going to be interpreting the language of the will, and if it is perceived that the beneficiary-executor is interpreting ambiguous language in his or her favor, this can pose a problem.
Do you own a business? Your executor will be in charge of this business interest while the estate is being administered. If your interest is silent or if winding the business down is an easy task, then this may not be an issue . . . but if it is a labor-intensive operation with employees and specialized knowledge, the executor is going to have a tough time while he or she continues to run things. It is very important that you have a succession plan in place for your business . . . consider appointing an executor who is familiar with running your company.
In short, your executor should be someone you trust, who is familiar with your assets, and who can maintain positive relationships with the beneficiaries of your estate. This person can certainly be a beneficiary of the will, but this really works best when your will has been drafted appropriately and unambiguously . . . make sure you have consulted with a professional so that your plan is coherent and thorough. Put another way by attorney McManus, “If you appoint someone you love as executor, get your house in order. Otherwise, appoint someone you do not.” Let me know if I can help.
Philip J. Ruce creates wills and trusts for families who want to feel secure that their loved ones are cared-for. Philip is a trust and estate attorney based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Philip is the author of Trustee University: The Guidebook to Best Practices for Family Trustees. available at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle edition (free chapter available here!) He also works with trustees and beneficiaries who need help with their trusts. You can contact him here.
Keywords: trusts and estates, Minnesota wills, revocable trusts, estate attorney, probate, estate planning