Choice of executor (sometimes known as “personal representative”) can be the most important part of your will.
In general, most married couples name the surviving spouse as executor. The more difficult choice is the executor upon the death of the surviving spouse. In a harmonious family, one or more of the children is usually a prudent choice. Which one? All things being equal, a child living nearby is a better choice than one living 1,000 miles away. The child you select should be responsible, respected by the siblings, fair, and (above all) endowed with common sense. Ability and willingness to communicate with siblings is also a plus. Never name a child who is undependable, sloppy or indifferent. It is not necessary to select a child with legal, accounting or investment management skills; a prudent executor will hire professionals to provide these services.
A common approach is to name two or more children as co-executors, which treats everyone equally, but presents logistical challenges in getting documents signed and making decisions. Occasionally, I name co-executors but add language encouraging some of the children to decline to serve, thereby streamlining administration. This avoids any sting of favoritism. Many clients simply name their children in order of birth. Although not especially logical, this avoids favoritism without adding the administrative burden of co-executors. Finally, many parents are willing to name individual children “out of order.” Usually the children recognize there is good reason why some of them are skipped. But they will also recognize (and resent) instances when a controlling sibling arm-twists the parent into favoring him or her over the others.
In my next post, I will discuss when it makes sense to hire a bank as executor or trustee.