How to Choose a Good Executor

William Hogarth: A Rake's Progress, Plate 1: T...

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My clients sometimes have trouble choosing the right executor for their estate. Often, they feel torn between several people, each of whom they would like to honor with such an appointment. But being an executor is not just an honor. Your executor will have a lot of responsibilities, not least of which is a legal duty to properly administer your estate.  It’s important to choose an executor who is stable, responsible, and trustworthy enough to handle those responsibilities.

For instance, your executor is responsible for initiating the legal probate proceedings, assembling and inventorying your assets, and filing your final tax returns.  In addition, your executor may be responsible for managing your assets.  Thus, a good executor should be detail-oriented and comfortable working with the professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, and investment advisors, whose assistance is necessary to do these things correctly.

Your executor is also responsible for using money from your estate to pay any of your outstanding bills, such as medical bills, funeral expenses, mortgage payments, utility bills, credit card payments, and bank fees.  So choose an executor who has demonstrated the ability to keep track of their own bills and pay those bills on time.  The process of settling accounts also often involves bureaucracy and paperwork, as the executor must work with banks, insurers, and credit card companies. So it is a good idea to choose an executor who has the confidence and perseverance to deal with such institutions.

Once your bills and taxes have been paid, your executor is responsible for distributing the remaining money in your estate.  This requires that your executor deal constructively with each and every one of your heirs.  If you choose an executor who does not get along with one of your heirs, this could quickly escalate into a legal conflict between them, which is not the legacy you want to leave for your loved ones.  And don’t forget that your executor has a legal duty to act impartially with regard to your heirs.  So it’s not a good idea to nominate someone who would be prevented from acting even-handedly by sibling rivalry or parental favoritism.

The bottom line is that there are many ways to honor and remember special people in your life, besides appointing them as executor.  Consider leaving such individuals a special bequest or a sentimental gift.  Or you can bequeath money in their name to a meaningful charity.  For assistance in making such bequests or in choosing a good executor for your estate, contact or see

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