Last week I wrote about the necessity of having a will; this week, some advice on choosing your executor, the person (or persons) named in your will who is charged with the responsibility of carrying out its provisions.
The first thing to remember is that the law gives your executor (and no one else) the power to carry out the provisions of your will; so choosing who will be given that power to is no trivial matter. The ideal executor would be a tactful, diplomatic, loving family member who is both a lawyer and a chartered accountant with a wide background in investing, and who will live forever. Well, let’s see who’s second best.
Bearing in mind that your executor has, at least for a period of time, complete control over your estate and its assets, honesty and integrity are obvious attributes to look for. Your executor should also know your family and share your values and principles. It’s best if your executor lives in your area; an estate in Vancouver and an executor in Charlottetown usually add up to unnecessary inconvenience and expense. Depending on the makeup of your estate, your executor may need a solid knowledge of, or access to, business and financial management. Access to legal advice is always a must.
Because you’re not apt to know one person with all the necessary attributes and qualifications, having a team of executors is probably the best route to go. Your spouse and your lawyer, accountant, or other trusted business person, are often good choices. You should also provide for an alternate executor should one of your first choices be unable or unwilling to act. (A person doesn’t have to accept the role of executor just because they’ve been named in the will.)
If your estate is large or complicated, or both, you may want to consider naming a trust company as one of the executors. Administering estates is part of their business, and all the reasons put forward for not using them – that they’re conservative, impersonal, and tough to deal with – are the very reasons you need them for those kinds of estates. A trust company and a spouse make an ideal team in such circumstances; your spouse knows the family and the trust company knows the rules.
On the other hand, there’s no point incurring what usually are the highest executors’ costs for a relatively small estate, or even a large one if it’s uncomplicated. In these circumstances, fall back on my earlier suggestion: your spouse plus a reliable acquaintance with some financial smarts and the wisdom to ask for professional help when required. Any executor has the right to engage professional help, such as a trust company, lawyer, accountant, or any combination thereof.
Whoever you choose as your executors, there are two important steps to always take. First, check with your proposed executors before actually naming them to determine if they are willing and able to act. Second, show them a copy of your will. There might be some provision in it with which they would be uncomfortable, such as complete discretion as to whether a recalcitrant son or daughter ever inherits anything. Also, they might have a conflict of interest, real or imagined.
As in so many other choices we have to make, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in choosing an executor. It depends entirely on your personal circumstances and desires.
Next week: powers of attorney.