Your Executor: Abe Lincoln, Martha Stewart, and Ed McMahon Rolled Into One

Who will take care of your affairs after your death?  Your executor.

If you have children, likely you’ll choose one of them to manage things. If not, you might select a beloved niece or nephew as your executor.   Or perhaps there is a member of your ‘family of choice’ who will serve.

Here are three characteristics to think about when considering someone to be  an executor:

1.  Integrity

Here’s where the Abe Lincoln comes in.  Make sure you select someone who has a strong reputation, who is honest and who knows enough to use experts.  It’s more important that they manage your assets prudently, than that they know every last detail about stocks and bonds.  The executor can use the funds in your estate to get the help of people who have detailed knowledge.  Select someone with good judgement who is steady and is honest.

2.  Organization

Managing an estate of any size calls for organization.  Bill paying, investing, selling real estate and assets, locating appraisers, and sending out legal notification are just a few of the things an executor is called on to do.  Then there are deadlines for filing and the completion of federal and state taxes.  If your eldest child was late to his wedding, has never filed taxes on time, and arrived at your 50th wedding anniversary celebration mid-way through the party, don’t choose him as your executor.   If this is a task none of your children or relatives is likely to do well, select a professional fiduciary or guardian to wind things up and spare them the heartburn.  Think of Martha Stewart’s ability to multi-task and keep things moving.  Those are important attributes for an executor.

3.  Personable

Being friendly will get your executor far.  This is a task that requires someone who is a good communicator, an individual who likes people.  Otherwise the executor is likely to make one of the worst errors in the book – not communicating with the heirs.  Make sure your executor comprehends how necessary periodic communication is – via phone, in writing and using email.  Each mode supports the central message to heirs that work is moving forward, they haven’t been forgotten, and their inheritance is being managed with accuracy, care and appropriate speed.  Your executor will function as an Ed McMahon/Circus Ringmaster type of person – they’ll direct others, contact experts who know, make decisions, and invite some people closer while keeping others at arm’s length.  They’ll be called upon to keep information confidential.  Make sure they are capable of working gracefully under pressure.

Be sure to talk with the person you select as executor – and always provide a second and third choice to your attorney so that your estate documents name successor executors.

Finally, make sure the person you’d like to have serve as your executor knows of your request and would like to take on the work.  Discuss the details and make sure they are in agreement.  It’s not a walk in the park – it’s more like deciding to take on a side job that may last for months, or in some cases even longer than a year if the estate is particularly complex.  Talk with your attorney about the compensation you want your executor to have and make it part of the discussion with the candidate you’ve selected.

Making an informed choice will lead you to an executor who will manage your estate in such a way that your beneficiaries feel your guiding hand shine through the entire process.



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