Spending the least amount of time possible contemplating your death is what most people try to do. However, one part of the estate planning process needs time and reflection: deciding who should serve in important roles, including executor. Whatever the size of your estate, the people you name have jobs that will impact your life and your family’s future, says a recent article “How to get it right when naming an executor and filling other key roles in your estate plan” from CNBC. At Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law, offering guidance to clients on how to choose the executor and other key roles in estate plans is essential to helping them “put the pieces together”.
First, let’s look at the executor. They are responsible for everything from filing your last will with the court to paying off debts, closing accounts and making sure that assets in your probate estate are distributed according to the directions in your last will. They need to be trustworthy, organized and able to manage financial decisions. They also need to be available to handle your estate, in addition to their other responsibilities.
Note that some of your assets, including retirement tax deferred accounts, life insurance proceeds and any other assets with a named beneficiary, will pass outside of your probate estate. These assets need to be identified and the custodian needs to be notified so the heir can receive the asset.
Some estates that need to go through Probate may take up to 16 months to settle, with estates of $5,000,000 or often taking 4 years or more. If this concerns you, you may want to discuss with your estate planning attorney having a Trust created as part of your estate plan.
Some people prefer to name co-executors as a means of spreading out the responsibilities. That is fine, unless the two people have a history of not getting along, as is the case with many siblings. Sharing the duties sounds like a good idea, but it can lead to delays if the two don’t agree or can’t coordinate their estate tasks. Many estate planning attorneys recommend naming one person as the executor and a second as the contingency executor, in case the first cannot serve or decides he or she does not want to take on the responsibilities. The same applies to any trustees, if your estate plan includes a trust.
Make sure the people you are considering as executor, contingent executor, trustee or success or trustee are willing to take on these roles. If there is no one in your life who can take on these tasks, an option is to name an estate planning attorney, accountant, or trust company.
Another important role in your estate plan is the Power of Attorney. You’ll want one for financial decisions and another for healthcare decisions. They can be the same person or different people. Understand that the financial Power of Attorney will have complete control over your assets, including accounts, real estate, and personal property, if you are too incapacitated to make decisions or to communicate your wishes.
The healthcare Power of Attorney will be making medical decisions on your behalf. You will want to name a person you trust to carry out your wishes—even if they and/or you family are not in agreement with them. It’s not an easy task, so be sure to create a Living Will to express your wishes if you are placed on life support or suffer from a terminal condition. This will help your healthcare Power of Attorney follow your wishes.
Finally, revisit your estate plan every three to five years. Beck & Lenox encourages their clients to come in for a free review of their plan. Note that in the choice of an executor and other key roles in estate plans, that life changes, laws change and your estate plan should continue to reflect your wishes. The lives of the people in key roles change, so the same person who was ready to serve as your executor today may not be five years from now. Confirm their willingness to serve every time you review your last will, just to be sure.
Reference: CNBC (March 5, 2021) “How to get it right when naming an executor and filling other key roles in your estate plan”