How to Choose an Executor for Your Estate

choosing the right executor

It’s a common mistake: families or individuals spend countless hours on the legal intricacies of their estate, but quickly and without as much care choose an executor to oversee the estate administration.

Serving as an executor is a complicated, enormously time-consuming job. Simply naming your oldest adult child, or a family friend who also happens to be an attorney or an accountant, is often not the best route to follow.

Serving as an executor is an important but often thankless job that typically requires patience and strong organizational skills, at a minimum. In their role as the administrator of an estate, executors are responsible for seeing a will through probate, determining and paying taxes, creditors and beneficiaries, managing the estate assets, and overseeing any tax audits or will contests.

From start to finish, the process can take years and if there are disgruntled beneficiaries, it can become contentious. Choosing the right person can mean the difference between a harmonious, efficient process and a protracted, hostile one.

In choosing your executor, consider the following:

Does the person have time? Administering an estate often means wading through financial information from banks, mortgage companies, insurance firms, investment firms and others with a stake in the deceased person’s assets. It also means countless phone calls, possible trips to the courthouse, and travel to the home of the deceased to manage paperwork and the disposition of personal property and any real estate.

Does the person have the skills?
If a family member has difficulty managing their own finances and taxes, they are not likely to succeed as an executor. A calm temperament and highly organized, detail-oriented personality are important traits to look for.

Should you name a family member or an outsider?
Naming a competent family member who understands your intentions can work well, depending on the complexity of your estate. Another option is to name co-executors, a configuration that can include two family members or a family member and a trusted third party.

Banks and trust companies are another option to serve as the executors of an estate. In Pennsylvania, the fees for an executor are subject to court review. Banks often have fee schedules that can be reviewed in advance as part of the estate-planning process.

The most important aspect of choosing your executor is to work with your attorney in this process.

The client needs to provide the attorney with information regarding the possible executor choices. The attorney can then provide guidance in the selection process based on their skill, knowledge and experience to assist the client in making the best choice.

For additional information on naming an executor or any other estate-planning issue, please see our Estate Planning services.