Choosing an Executor for Your Estate

When you meet with an estate planning attorney, you will be asked to make a number of important decisions. Your attorney can offer options to solve most of your estate planning dilemmas, such as whether to rely on survivorship rights or establish a living trust, but one decision is truly up to you. Who should you choose to act as executor for your estate, or trustee of your living trust?

The executor of your estate (or trustee of your living trust) doesn’t require any special training. However, it is always wise to choose someone who is responsible, honest, and organized. When the inevitable happens, you want to leave your estate and/or trust in the hands of someone who is competent to perform a variety of duties while also managing their own emotional distress.

Most people choose a spouse, an adult child, or another relative to act as executor or trustee. But you can also designate a trusted friend for the job, or even a professional fiduciary such as a bank or an individual licensed by the state to fulfill this role.

In most cases the executor of your estate is subject to direct supervision by the probate court. On the other hand, the trustee of a living trust is not subject to such supervision. Generally, the roles of the executor and trustee are very similar. Whether you are naming an executor for your estate or a trustee for a living trust, the person or persons named will be responsible for ensuring that your final wishes are fulfilled.

If you do decide to establish a living trust, you can allow your trustee to assume responsibility while you are still alive but incapacitated. If you worry about eventual incapacity due to illness or injury, it might be wise to establish a living trust and name a trustee who would have the authority to act on your behalf in the event you are unable.

There are many issues to consider when deciding who to name as an executor or trustee. If you decide to name an adult child, do you worry that doing so will place strain on sibling relationships? If you name a business associate, could a conflict of interest arise in the future? Will the person you choose have the time and ability to fulfill his or her obligation? These are all issues to discuss carefully with your estate planning attorney, and also with your chosen executor or trustee.

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