When you put your estate plans together, one of the biggest decisions you have to make is who you would like to see appointed as your personal representative.
While the court can override your choice if it has a good reason, this will most likely be the person who administers your estate, making sure that your final affairs are settled and your heirs get what they are due. Selecting the right personal representative (or “executor”) is key to a smooth process while selecting the wrong one can turn into a nightmare for the loved ones you leave behind.
What qualities should your personal representative have?
Don’t select your spouse or your oldest child simply because it seems like the acceptable or expected thing to do. Instead, consider each potential candidate in terms of their:
- Trustworthiness: This is perhaps the number one concern. You will likely need to give your personal representative access to some sensitive personal and financial information even before your death, so they should be someone you completely trust.
- Impartiality: Nothing can create an estate dispute faster than the perception that a personal representative is “playing favorites” among the heirs. Choose someone who is fair and won’t stir up hard feelings between your heirs.
- Organizational Skills: Managing even a modest estate can be a big job, and it takes a lot of paperwork, court appointments and communication. If someone is disorganized or haphazard about their own affairs, don’t put them in charge of yours.
- Likelihood to Seek Help: Dealing with an estate’s assets, debts and taxes takes some degree of financial literacy, but your executor doesn’t have to be skilled in that area so long as they’re able to recognize the fact they may need professional assistance.
- Availability: It’s unwise to pick someone who is older than you or in poor health, since they may not be around to handle the job when the time comes. It’s also a bad idea to put the burden on someone who lives far away or whose lifestyle already has them overwhelmed by other commitments.
- Willingness to Serve: Finally, never make this a surprise. Your chosen representative may decline the appointment, which could create chaos for your estate plans. Discuss your plans with the person you select and make sure they’re agreeable.
Choosing your personal representative can be difficult, but seeking experienced legal guidance can help you to clarify your thinking and ease your concerns.