How to choose an executor of your estate

When drafting your will, who the executor of your estate will be is as big a decision as who your beneficiaries will be. The role of the executor is to look after all aspects of your estate and may be involved in everything from organizing a funeral  to informing beneficiaries, protecting the estate’s assets and distributing them to fulfill your tax obligations and carry out the provisions of your will.

Be clear in your will

The executor’s role is to follow your wishes and instructions laid out in your will, so be clear. The less there is open to interpretation, the less possibility there is of delays or confusion. It is also helpful to keep a list of where all of your bank accounts, insurance policies, mortgage or title documents and safety deposit boxes are. Less guess work means a faster and easier resolution. “It is difficult to stray from the terms of the will,” explains Toronto Lawyer Nigel Watson.

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You don’t need to choose a professional

Watson says people mistakenly think they need to hire a professional to be their executor. Your executor will be working closely with a lawyer who will be knowledgeable in the area, so for the majority of estates it is not necessary  to pay the high fees associated with going through a trust company or other financial institution. He explains that executors are entitled to charge a fee, generally about 5%, however many family members acting as executors do not. There are also many banks that offer free downloadable kits to help executors get organized, making the process easier to manage for an executor with no legal background.

You do need to choose a contingent executor

It is always a good idea to choose a contingent executor when drawing up your will.  If something happens to your executor while are able to change your will, you will have more time to appoint a new executor. As well, if something happens to your executor while your estate is being dealt with, there will be a smooth transition.

Ask your executor first

Although many people consider being named an executor an honour, others shy away from the role. Your choice for executor has the right to refuse or renounce the responsibility. You can ensure the job is easier,  and your wishes are acted upon,  by putting together a list where all of your bank accounts, insurance policies and safety deposit boxes can be found.  Having that information with your will can make the process smoother.

You can choose more than one executor

While you can joint executors, it is not always wise to do so. Watson points out that all of the decisions will have to be approved by both executors, so it is important to choose people who are willing to work together.  Be wary of choosing more than two executors, as sometimes parents of three or more children are tempted to do to avoid hurt feelings. It can be difficult for everyone to come to a consensus, especially during an emotional time.

Stay Current

When updating your will, don’t forget to look at your choices for executor and contingent executor. Just as your situation changes over time, the situation of your executor may have changed as well.