Whether you choose a will or a living trust, you also need to select someone to administer the disposition of your estate – an executor or personal representative and, if you have a living trust, a trustee. An individual (such as a family member, a friend or a professional advisor) or an institution (such as a bank or trust company) can serve in these capacities. Many people name an individual and an institution to leverage their collective expertise.
What does the executor or personal representative do? He or she serves after your death and has several major responsibilities, including:
- Administering your estate and distributing the assets to your beneficiaries.
- Making certain tax decisions.
- Paying any estate debts or expenses.
- Ensuring all life insurance and retirement plan benefits are received.
- Filing the necessary tax returns and paying the appropriate federal and state taxes.
Whatever your choice, make sure the executor, personal representative or trustee is willing to serve, and consider paying a reasonable fee for the services. The job isn’t easy, and not everyone will want or accept the responsibility. Designate an alternate in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to perform. Naming a spouse, child, or other relative to act as executor is common, and he or she certainly can hire any professional assistance that might be needed.
Finally, make sure the executor, personal representative, or trustee doesn’t have a conflict of interest. For example, think twice about choosing an individual who owns part of your business, a second spouse or children from a prior marriage. A co-owner’s personal goals regarding the business may differ from those of your family, and the desires of a stepparent and stepchildren may conflict.
Selecting a Guardian for Your Children
If you have minor children, perhaps the most important element of your estate plan doesn’t involve your assets. Rather, it involves your children’s guardianship. Of course, the well being of your children is your priority, but there are some financial issues to consider:
- Will the guardian be capable of managing your children’s assets?
- Will the guardian be financially strong? If not, consider compensation.
- Will the guardian’s home accommodate your children?
- How will the guardian determine your children’s living costs?
If you prefer, you can name separate guardians for your child and his or her assets. Taking the time to name a guardian or guardians now ensures your children will be cared for as you wish if you die while they are still minors.