In their Will, people often name the person closest to them to be their executor – they trust them to understand their wishes and to handle their beneficiaries appropriately. But the best person for the job may not be the obvious choice. Here are seven things to consider when choosing your executor:
1. Can they handle family dynamics?
Often, there is family conflict when an estate is being settled. This is especially true when you’re transferring wealth from one generation to the next, or if you have children from multiple marriages. What’s more, it can be an emotionally charged time – people are often not thinking straight, which can lead to misunderstandings.
When deciding on an executor, look for someone who is fair, diplomatic and able to manage complex family dynamics. Your executor may need to explain why you made certain decisions in your Will, and gently encourage family members to respect your wishes. If there’s a dispute, they may also need to act as a mediator.
2. Are they savvy about financial issues?
Being an executor is a bit like being a financial advisor, accountant and lawyer – all rolled into one. Your executor doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert in all these areas, but should be knowledgeable enough to deal with them, and know how to access experts when required. Consider naming an executor who is detail-oriented, has their finances in order, and has experience dealing with tax and legal matters.
3. Are they located near you?
It may be difficult for an out-of-town executor to travel back and forth, especially if they have career or family commitments. In addition, they may not be familiar with tax and legal issues in your province. As a result, it’s usually a good idea to choose an executor who lives nearby.
4. Do they have the time?
Fulfilling the many responsibilities of an executor takes time. Among their many duties:
reviewing and and probating the Will
making final arrangements
taking an inventory of the estate property
paying bills, debts and taxes with beneficiaries
working with tax and legal professionals
Simply put, all this can be very difficult for busy people – even if they are financially capable – so it makes sense to choose an executor who can make the time commitment.
5. Are they in good enough health?
Often, people name their spouse or close friend to be their executor. However, age and health can be a concern. Generally, it’s a good idea to name someone who is younger than you, and likely to be in good health when the time comes to settle your estate.
6. Are they actually willing to do it?
Sometimes people name executors without even asking them, assuming they will feel honoured. That may be true, but it’s also possible that they’d rather not take on the responsibility. Of course, they may be reluctant to say that, not wanting to hurt your feelings. Give them the opportunity to decline, guilt-free: “Are you sure you’re OK with this? There are a lot of duties – I can choose someone else.”
7. Do they need professional assistance?
When the time comes, many executors are surprised to learn how many duties they have as an executor, and that there are financial consequences – and potential personal liability – if they fail to carry them out properly. At this point, they often decide they need professional assistance from a corporate executor who has the expertise to settle an estate, and can act as a neutral third party with beneficiaries. You can also name a corporate executor in advance in your Will, to either support a friend or family member as their co-executor, or to act as sole executor.
For information on naming an executor, or for a referral to a corporate executor, please contact us.