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Wills and estate planning

How to pick an executor

You know having a will is important in order to distribute your assets as you wish, but how do you pick the person who will take care of it all?
One of the very first steps you'll want to focus on as you begin estate planning is writing a will. It's a document that will serve as a guide for how you'd like your assets, property and possessions distributed once you pass.

This part seems pretty straightforward to most people, but what comes next? Picking an executor, the person who will manage your estate.

It's an important step that deserves serious consideration, since it can have a lasting impact on your final wishes. Here's what you need to think about.

What is an executor?

An executor is the person responsible for managing your estate after you have passed. They are in charge of going through your will and making sure everything you've outlined — your last wishes — are followed as intended.

While an executor is a legally recognized position, the person you choose doesn't have to be a lawyer. What they do need to do, however, is follow the guidelines you've laid out.

What does an executor do?

The person you choose as your executor will be in charge of many important decisions, including:

  • Paying any outstanding financial obligations
  • Distributing your assets to beneficiaries
  • Managing or arranging the sale of any homes or physical property
  • Properly maintaining your affairs in the manner you've specified

If you don't have an executor, your instructions will be left to a court appointee to follow.

How to choose an executor

As you start creating your will, think about who is a good fit for this role. Remember, an executor is an important job, and it can also last a while. In some cases, the proper execution of a will can take years, so it's important to choose someone who can handle the role for the duration of this period.

You don't need to pick someone who has done this before. Many people name someone who has not been an executor, but who is trusted, has good common business sense and is willing to get advice or ask for help when it comes to making the right decisions to best execute your will.

Depending on needs, some people hire a paid executor — a person who works for a bank or trust who does not have a conflict of interest with your estate.

Other important factors to consider

Below are a few more critical factors to consider as you make your choice.

  • It's a good rule of thumb to avoid naming an executor who the courts will not have jurisdiction over. That would include naming a minor child or a non-American citizen who lives outside the United States.
  • Some states also have specific regulations regarding out-of-state executors, so that's something else to consider.
  • It's never a bad idea to have a contingency plan. Sometimes, the person named as executor is unable to perform the job when the time comes. Consider naming a backup or replacement executor, or you can name joint executors who will cooperate and serve as backups to each other.

How to write your own will

While many people work with a lawyer to write a will, you can also create one on your own. There are a number of websites that will walk you through the process of creating a last will and testament.

Spend some time exploring these options and see if one best fits your needs:

  • The Living Trust Network has several examples you can use, ranging from simple wills to more complex wills for parents with young children.
  • Nolo has a sample will with 13 parts. They do a good job of explaining what the provisions mean in each of the sections.
  • LegalZoom offers a more do-it-for-you option. You answer a few questions and they will generate a basic will that meets regulations in your state.

Remember that laws can differ in each state, so learn more about what may be required depending on where you live, or work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

To best prepare your estate for life after you've passed, it's important to pick an executor who will keep your best interests at heart and follow the guidelines you've set out for your estate.

Choosing the right executor can give you peace of mind that your final wishes will be followed just as you intended.

 

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