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How to Choose an Executor or Trustee

An executor or trustee is needed to settle your estate or administer your trust, and choosing the right person is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when establishing an estate plan.

So, what is the difference between an executor and a trustee, and what are the important things to consider when choosing one for yourself?

Both executors and trustees are considered fiduciaries, and are supposed to act on behalf and in the best interest of the estate and beneficiaries.  

If there’s a will, the executor is the one responsible for carrying out the terms of your will after your death, and paying your final expenses and debts.  

A trustee acts on behalf of the trust and executes the terms of a trust document, administers the assets, handles any claims, and then distributes the assets as the document(s) state.

As far as the qualities and requirements to look for in your executor or trustee, the most important one is trustworthiness.  You have spent a lifetime accumulating your assets, and it’s essential to pick a person you can fully trust your assets with.

Next, your executor or trustee should be someone who can act impartially, is not easily influenced, and can treat the beneficiaries fairly.  Otherwise, it’s almost inevitable there will be problems settling the estate, which would cause delays and added expense in the estate administration.  If the beneficiaries are family members who do not get along, it is often wiser to name a non-family member as your executor or trustee.

Good organization skills and attention to detail are crucial for an executor or trustee, since even the simplest estates require accurate and proper recordkeeping and reporting.  Failing to do so can often result in delays, and also lead to liability on the part of the executor or trustee.

Because settling an estate can involve a lot of work, effort and time, make sure the person you are considering can provide that.  If he or she already has a demanding job or other responsibilities that require most of their time, you may need to consider another person to be your executor or trustee.

Consider naming at least one person that is younger, in good health, and likely to outlive you – so if the first named executor or trustee is a similar age to you, name at least one younger alternate to serve in the event your first choice dies before you or is unable to be a fiduciary.

If settling your estate requires the sale of real estate or personal property, it can make things easier if the executor or trustee lives nearby, although it’s generally not required they live in the same county or state.

Finally, be sure to talk to the person and get the approval before naming him or her as your executor or trustee.  If the person gives you his or her approval, discuss your financial details, the specific terms of your will and/or trust, where your important documents are located, and share the contact information of your attorney, accountant and other advisors.

If there isn’t a family member or friend you would consider and name, you can select what’s called a corporate fiduciary or trust company to act in that role.  There are many benefits of naming a professional fiduciary, such as proficiency in legal aspects or accounting and finances, recordkeeping, acting impartially, and carrying out the terms of the will or trust in a timely manner.

If the corporate trustee is a co-trustee with an individual, they would provide support with reading and interpreting the documents, as well as the appropriate guidance and outline of the legal implications of the document to the individual who is a trustee.

A corporate trustee can also help with difficult family situations and complex assets.

If you have an individual trustee, you have to name a successor trustee.  This is because that person could die before you, become disabled, incompetent, etc., plus, there could be a situation with an ongoing trust that could last for decades, so you need someone that would be there during all of that time frame.  This is why a corporate trustee is recommended as a successor trustee.  You could name several individuals for successors, and perhaps a corporate trustee as the last one.

If you already have your estate plan in place, see that your will is periodically updated to included all the heirs and any newly acquired assets.  An estate plan is not just about passing your wealth to your loved ones, but it also provides independence and control as you age.

At the Levin Law Group law firm, our experienced estate planning attorneys in New York City, Brooklyn, and Long Island will assist you in advising and preparing a wide range of estate planning documents.

We invite you to get in touch with us so we can help you take steps to ensure your interests and assets are protected – contact Levin Law Group and get a free consultation with our trustworthy estate planning attorney today: 800-517-5240.