How to Choose an Executor

End of Life Management Toolkit #2 | by Team Passare and Robert L. Shepard

1. What is an Executor?

The executor is like a personal representative; he or she will conduct all the legal actions required to fulfill your will. This includes the probate process and the distribution of your assets. If you do not have a will, the court appoints a legal administrator to carry out these duties. The court appointed administrator is paid out of the assets of your estate. If your estate does not have sufficient funds, then your next of kin will be responsible for the payment.

Once you decide who you want to act as your executor, spend time with them to go over the required responsibilities. Once he or she has agreed to the task, include the name and contact information to your End of Life documents. We recommend you assign a secondary executor, in case your primary is unavailable or unable to serve.

Definition: Trustee vs. Executor

A trustee is similar to an executor but is assigned to administer a trust document, not the will or estate plan. A trust is similar to a will because it expresses your End of Life wishes. The trust is significantly different because it does not go through probate court. Unlike the executor, the trustee is not court supervised. Another difference between the executor role and the trustee role is length of time. Management of the trust can go on for many years, depending on the size of the estate, while executor duties are typically resolved much sooner. A bank is highly recommended to serve as the successor trustee, or secondary trustee. Similar to the executor, a trustee should have expertise in collecting estate assets, investing money, paying bills, filing accountings and managing money. The trustee is responsible for the distribution of property to the beneficiaries within the trust.

The trustee consults with your beneficiaries about:
  • Financial disbursements
  • Expenses to be paid
  • Withdrawals against principal

Helpful Hint: If trust assets are more than $10 million dollars, explore using a professional trustee, such as a bank.

Tips on How-to Choose Your Executor
  1. Some expertise in finance is important because the executor will pay your taxes, distribute your personal property, manage financial accounts and pay bills after you die.
  2. Choose a secondary executor in case your primary is unable to serve.
  3. In some situations, co-executors, where two or more people serve at the same time, may be necessary. Speak with your primary executor to decide.
  4. If you want your spouse to be executor, consider the emotional distress he or she will experience at your death. Ask them if this is a task they will want to assume.
  5. Choose someone with whom your beneficiaries feel comfortable and whom you trust to handle your estate.
Now, take a few minutes to answer these questions.
  1. With whom should I first discuss my possible choices for executor? (Spouse, business partner, friend, etc.)
  2. Who is my first choice for executor? Why is he or she the best person for this role?
  3. Who is my second choice for executor?
  4. When will I discuss with them my request for their participation?
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