Don't rush into choosing an executor or trustee

Have you decided to put together an estate plan? Congratulations! The peace of mind you will get from knowing that your family will be taken care of in your absence can't be matched. After spending your life providing for them, you may sleep better at night knowing that care will continue after you pass away.

Of course, even the best plans may fall apart without the right person or persons at the helm. Choosing the executor and/or trustee you want to carry out your wishes is just as important, if not more important, than the structure of your estate plan. Your executor and trustee do not have to be the same person or people, and the general guidelines below apply to either position and may help you make your choices.

One person or more?

The first consideration is whether to appoint one person or more. If you feel uncomfortable with one person having the power to make all of the decisions on behalf of your beneficiaries and heirs, it makes sense to appoint more than one person to the position. However, it may be a good idea to make sure that the individuals you choose are like-minded and get along. Otherwise, conflicts could easily arise between them, and that could potentially interfere with your plans.

If you prefer to appoint one person to fill a position, you may want to make sure that he or she is capable of and comfortable with making the necessary decisions and taking any actions necessary.

Can a person do the job?

It's not necessary for an executor or trustee to have an expertise in estate law to fill either position. However, that person does need to have a good head on his or her shoulders and the ability to find the right person to help when needed.

If you can't think of anyone who can fill the position of trustee adequately, you may want to consider using a corporate trustee. You still need to take the time to properly vet your choices, but there is something to be said for the continuity and expertise that comes with a corporate trustee.

Will a person be there to do the job?

Another advantage of a corporate trustee is that there will more than likely always be someone available to step into the role. When you choose a family member or friend, you run the risk of him or her not being around when needed. However, you can easily resolve this issue by choosing and naming an alternate person to step in if the primary individual has passed away or declines to serve.

This brings up another important factor in choosing an executor or trustee: willingness to serve. Before simply naming someone, it would be a good idea to determine whether he or she is even willing to take on the role and the responsibilities that come with it. The same goes with any alternates chosen. It would be unfortunate for your surviving family members to have to go to court to have someone appointed if no one can nor wants to serve.

This is yet another compelling reason why you should review your estate plan periodically. People may die or move away. In addition, you could have a falling out at some point in the future, and you may not want that person controlling your estate after you pass away. You could check in with your chosen executor or trustee to make sure he or she is still willing to take on that role. If not, there is still time for change.

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