How do you pick the executor of a will?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 22, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

When picking an executor for a will when a married couple have no children, would you pick one person or two, friend or relative, older or younger?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Choosing an executor is an intensely personal decision, guided best by your instincts and personal relationships. That written, however, there are a few commonsense guidelines you might want to consider.

First of all, it is usually wise to name one person rather than two to act as joint executors. The reason is that if two are named to serve together, they must agree on all actions taken"”such as selling and valuing property. While this might not sound too difficult, the dictate has been the undoing of even the chummiest of friends or relatives who are required to work and think together during what is usually an emotionally charged time.

If you have two people in mind, you can always name one to be the first choice"”and another to be the alternate, or back-up, in case the first person cannot serve. Or one of the spouses could name one person as executor and the other name another person. (As an aside, it is usually a bad idea for a married couple to have a single joint will; far preferable for each to have his and her own.)

Beyond that, the most important guideline in choosing an executor is to name 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 in their wills. This is sensible, because a person with an interest in how your property is distributed"”a spouse, partner, or close friend or family member"”is also likely to do a conscientious job as executor. And he or she will likely come equipped with knowledge of where your records are kept and an understanding of why you want your property distributed as your will directs.

Also, make sure the person you select is willing to do the job. Discuss the possible duties involved with your choice before naming him or her in your will as executor.

And finally, know that all willmakers are encouraged to reviews their wills every couple years and make changes as they see fit. So if the friend you have named as executor becomes an enemy, the relative moves to a far-off land, or the person named, of whatever age, becomes infirm or dies, you can easily change the designation.