Naming an Executor

Glancing through the list of the executor's duties should tip you off about who might be the best person for the job. The prime characteristics are honesty, skill at organizing, and finesse in keeping track of details. For many tasks, such as collecting mail and finding important records and papers, it may be most helpful to name someone who lives nearby or who is familiar with your business matters.

Naming a Qualified Executor

The most important guideline in naming an executor is to choose someone you trust enough to have access to your personal records and finances after your death. Many people choose someone who is also named to get a substantial amount of property under the will. This is sensible because a person with an interest in how your property is distributed—a spouse, partner, child or close family member—is also likely to do a conscientious job as executor. And he or she will probably also come equipped with knowledge of where your records are kept and an understanding of why you want your property split up as you have directed.

Following are a few more things you may want to consider when naming your executor in WillMaker. Whomever you choose, make sure the person you select is willing to do the job. Discuss the possible duties involved with your choice for executor before naming him or her in your will.

Naming Someone Who Lives Out of State

As a practical matter, it's wise to name an executor who lives close to you. It will be more difficult for the executor to handle day-to-day matters from a distance. But if the best person for the job lives far away, there's no law against naming that person in your will. Every state allows out-of-state executors to serve, though many states will require a bond, and most states impose special rules on out-of-state executors.

Naming More Than One Person

While you may name two executors or two alternate executors to serve together, doing so is often not wise. Joint executors may act without each other's consent—and if they ever disagree, your estate may be the loser because of lengthy probate delays and court costs.

Naming an Institution

While it is almost always best to choose a trusted person for the job, you may not know anyone who is up to the task of winding up your estate— especially if your estate is large and complicated and your beneficiaries are either very old, very young or just inexperienced in financial matters. If so, you can select a professional management firm to act as your executor. (Banks often provide this service.)

If you are considering naming an institution as executor, be sure the one you choose is willing to accept the job—most won't unless your estate is fairly large. Also, institutions charge a hefty fee for acting as executor. They may charge both a percentage of the value of property to be managed and a number of smaller fees for routine services, such as buying and selling property.

If You Do Not Name an Executor

If you do not name an executor in your will, the document will still be valid. But your decision will not have been a wise one. It will most often mean that a court will have to scurry to come up with a willing relative to serve. If that fails, the court will probably appoint someone to do the job who is likely to be unfamiliar with you, your property, and your beneficiaries. People appointed by the court to serve are usually called administrators.

The laws in many states provide that anyone who is entitled under the will to take over half a person's property has first priority to serve as executor. If no such person is apparent, courts will generally look for someone to serve among the following groups of people in the following order:

    • surviving spouse or registered domestic partner
    • children
    • grandchildren
    • great-grandchildren
    • parents
    • brothers and sisters
    • grandparents
    • uncles, aunts, first cousins
    • children of a deceased spouse or partner
    • other next of kin
    • relatives of a deceased spouse or partner
    • conservator or guardian
    • public administrator
    • creditors, and
    • any other person.

    Naming an Alternate

    In case you name someone to serve as executor who dies before you do or for any other reason cannot take on the responsibilities, you should name at least one alternate to serve instead.

    You may name up to two levels of alternate executors—called your first alternate and second alternate:

    • First alternate. Your first alternate will serve only if your primary executor(s) cannot. We recommend that you name just one person to serve as first alternate, but if you feel it is necessary, you may name two people to serve together. (See "Naming More Than One Person," above, for the pitfalls of naming coexecutors.)
    • Second alternate. Your second alternate will serve only if your executor(s) and first alternate(s) cannot. You can name only one second alternate.

    EXAMPLE: Marsha names Bill and Jane as her coexecutors. She then names Susan as first alternate and Keith as second alternate. When Marsha dies, if either Bill or Jane is unavailable to be the executor of her estate, the other will serve alone. If both Bill and Jane are unavailable, Susan will serve. In the unlikely event that Bill, Jane and Susan are all unavailable, it will be up to Keith to wrap up Marsha's estate.

    In choosing an alternate executor, consider the same factors you did in naming your first choice.