When a family member dies, the person selected as the executor of the estate is often one of the largest causes of family discord.

In some cases, the other family members feel slighted, even if they never wanted to be the executor. In other cases, when family members do not receive what they want or expect, this dissatisfaction translates into dissatisfaction with how the executor is doing his or her job to settle the estate. Sometimes the dissatisfaction is well deserved when the person selected to serve as executor is simply not capable of doing the job: he or she disregards documents and the law and acts without proper legal, tax, and accounting advice.

Ideally, your executor should be a person with a smooth personality who is well organized, trustworthy, and capable of making thoughtful decisions. This person should “know what they know and know what they don’t know” and should be willing to reach out to others who have more experience when help is needed.

When choosing who to name as your executor, consider these issues:

  • Should you name your spouse? Most married couples name a spouse as the executor. Naming a spouse as executor can be a good choice since your spouse likely has the most information about your assets. However, you should also name a successor executor to serve if your spouse dies before you do, or if he or she is unable or unwilling to serve as executor.
  • Should you name only one child? The benefit of naming only one child as executor is efficiency – he or she has the legal authority to get the job done without having others vote on each decision. If you choose only one child, choose the child that most closely fits the ideal executor criteria. Just because a child is the oldest, or lives closest to you, does not mean that he or she will make a good executor.
  • Should you name all the children to serve as co-executors? Often, to avoid offending any particular child, a parent will name all the children to serve as co-executors. Whether or not this is a good idea depends on the number of children and how they get along with each other. As co-executors, they will be forced to work together. If you go this route, then to avoid a stalemate, make sure to provide that co-executors act by majority decision, rather than unanimous decision. However, if there are only two children, then a majority decision requires for them both to agree. If one does not agree, the court may have to resolve the issue.

Who should you name if no family member(s) meet the criteria for a good executor? Consider naming a professional fiduciary, such as a bank or trust company, or an attorney with experience in trust and estate matters. Although most professional fiduciaries will charge a fee, the fee may be well worth it to avoid mistakes, delays, family strife, and costly litigation arising from an unwise executor selection.