If you’re like most of us, when choosing the person to settle your estate after you die, you’ll pick a close family member without much thought. They usually know us best, so naming a spouse, significant other, or adult child to be your estate executor seems like the most logical choice. And in many cases, it probably is.
But before you automatically bestow this important duty on a loved one, it’s smart to pause and consider whether they’re really the best choice for the time-consuming and complex job. At Executor.org, we often talk to the professionals that help families after a loved one dies -- estate attorneys, accountants, funeral directors, and grief counselors. With their input we’ve come up with six warning signs that you’re choosing the wrong person for the job:
1. They aren’t interested in discussing the matter with you
In some cases, people don’t learn they have been appointed as an executor until after someone dies. But ideally, before you choose someone you’ll want to discuss the matter in detail with them. If they are reluctant or seem disinterested in having this conversation, it might just be because talking about death is unpleasant and they don’t want to think about it. But it also could mean they have no interest in being executor and would prefer you name someone else. You’ll want to work through this before making your choice.
2. They are too busy (young family, working all the time, overwhelmed)
Settling an estate usually takes about a year and includes finding investments, closing accounts, selling off property, cleaning out a home, visiting probate court, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries that are listed in the Will. There will most likely be multiple visits to an estate attorney, financial planner, realtor, and other professionals. Your executor might even end up having to keep the peace if tensions arise among the family. If someone has a young family, a high-stress career, or always seems to take on more than they probably should, being an executor might be too much for them, especially if you were to die in the foreseeable future.
3. They disagree with your wishes
Hopefully as part of your estate planning you’ll leave detailed instructions for your end-of-life care and funeral, as well as a thorough Last Will and Testament. But despite your best efforts, it is possible your executor will have to make decisions on your behalf or interpret your wishes because they aren’t completely clear or written down. If you fear they won’t be able to make decisions in keeping with your beliefs, morals, faith, goals, etc., pick someone else.
4. They don’t get along with other members of your family
Sometimes one of the most important roles an executor plays is that of peacekeeper. After a death, grief and sadness can place a lot of stress on a family and let’s face it, sometimes even previously healthy family relationships crumble under the strain. If there’s already bad blood between your executor and your other loved ones, it’s highly probable you’re setting your family up for more disagreements after you’re gone.
5. They aren’t someone who manages long-term projects well
If your potential executor isn’t good at executing a long-term project, you should definitely think long and hard before naming them to this role. Staying on top of things is critical and disorganization can lead to big mistakes, including things such as selling investments at the wrong time, allowing your home to fall into disrepair and sell for less than it could, and failing to make the legal notifications that are required when someone dies. I created Executor.org to help executors get and stay organized through the long process because I realized firsthand when my parents died that the process requires you to juggle a lot of responsibilities over the course of a year or more. Your executor will need to be committed for the long haul.
6. They have a pattern of dishonesty or lying
An executor is required by the court to act lawfully and will face legal ramifications if it’s determined they haven’t, so there is a system in place to prevent improper behavior. That said, the court can’t oversee every one of the 100+ steps in the process and others in your family probably can’t either. For example, your beneficiaries would likely notice if a valuable heirloom or large sum of money went missing from an investment account. But they might not realize smaller pieces of jewelry or cash kept in the home is gone. Stealing aside, if your executor lies about completing a task or making needed arrangements, it also can cause significant problems and end up costing your beneficiaries.
Being an executor is an important job and frankly, some people are going to be better at it than others. Oftentimes we want to pick those closest to us, if only so we don’t hurt their feelings or make them feel like they aren’t important to us. But choosing an executor just because they are your significant other, child, or friend is not the best reasoning. By considering the six points above you can better ensure your wishes are followed and that you don’t set your loved ones up for failure or unneeded stress.