We discussed in a previous posting the responsibilities of an Executor, but we didn’t highlight the character traits that you need to look for when you are choosing an Executor for your estate.
This person needs to take on the role of accountant for your estate, which includes filing taxes on your behalf. They then need to gather up the estate and distribute it according to your wishes. The most obvious trait you will be looking for in your Executor is a person with a head for figures, who is organized. Somebody who hasn’t filed their own taxes for a few years and cannot find records of previous year’s taxes is probably not a good choice to take over your affairs.
Your Executor will then have to keep a detailed record of your entire estate, and a record of how it was distributed. Keeping their notes on scraps of paper won’t be enough, they will be accountable to the beneficiaries, and will need to provide receipts on request.
Your Executor may be required to hold some of your estate in a trust fund. This means that the need to be good with money and have a sense of how money should and should not be invested. There are so many examples of how this can go wrong, for example, this trustee who stole money from a young boy’s trust fund. And sometimes the mis-use of a trust-fund can just be an alleged misappropriation rather than an outright theft.
It is important to bear in mind that your Executor will often have access to sums of money through your estate that they wouldn’t see on a day-to-day basis. And as a result, money from your estate can just go missing!
I include these links as three examples in the last two weeks that have hit the mainstream media. They are examples of Executors allegedly mis-using, losing or stealing funds from an estate. What makes these three cases interesting is that the first case was the testator’s partner, the second was their lawyer, the third was the city mayor. On the face of it, these would actually be three very good recommendations for a person to fulfil the role of Executor.
It is a very personal decision, but the most important trait of all is one of trustworthiness. You will be handing your entire wealth to this person – everything you own. And you will be trusting that this person will be able to distribute your estate according to the instructions in the Will, without helping themselves to an unfair fee along the way.
So think very carefully, as you can see from these three examples, things can go wrong very easily, and I would suggest that for every example that hits the media, hundreds go undetected.