An Executor for your Will – how to make the best appointment

How to Choose an Executor for Your Will

One of the most important estate planning decisions that you must think about is how to choose an executor for your Will. Surprisingly, many people do not give much thought to just how important an executor is. Often the task I given to a family member without much thought about whether that person is the best for the job.

An executor has a very important role. They will be in charge of administering your estate as efficiently and promptly as possible. It is a big responsibility to undertake. You really should give some serious thought about how you choose an executor for your Will.

What Does an Executor Do?

When choosing an executor for your Will it is important to realize what role means. The executor of a will has a number of important tasks:

  1. They must identify and collect all the assets of the estate
  2. Identify the beneficiaries of the Will
  3. Decide if probate is necessary. If so, then they must apply for probate.
  4. Deal with the entire estate of the deceased. This can include things such as closing bank accounts, dealing with digital assets and contacting all necessary agencies..
  5. An executor must settle all debts out of the estate. This includes paying any taxes due.

The final step is to distribute the property to the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will.

There is potentially a great deal to do. Therefore, you must be careful who you choose as an executor for your will.

Should You Choose a Family Member as an Executor?

Most people choose a family member or a close friend to be an executor for their Will. Popular choices tend to be a spouse or a child. This can have its advantages. These close family members usually have a motivation to deal with your estate honestly and quickly. They are likely to already be familiar with at least some of the aspects of your estate which will need distributing.

How to choose an Executor

However, you always need to consider whether the person that you choose really has the necessary skills to be an executor of your Will. You must remember that close family members will be going through the grieving process. Do you want to add to their burden by also having to deal with the administration of your estate? You should think about whether you want to give them this responsibility at such a difficult time.

If there isn’t any obvious family member to choose, or you don’t think it is appropriate, you should next think about whether you have any friends who could take on the role. Again, you must remember that this is a responsible task. Although most estates do not need any professional skills to administer, it is time consuming. A friend may also have to deal with grieving family members who may not be happy that they have been given the job of executor.

Important attributes required

When you are thinking about appointing a friend as an executor ask yourself what skills they have which will help them in that role. If you have a friend who is a solicitor or an accountant, they are probably going to be high up on your list of people who would be good at the job. However, anyone who has great organisational skills could be a good choice. Think about what the job entails and whether that person would be a good fit.

Another important consideration is the age of the person who you choose as executor for your Will. You want the person that you appoint to be around when the time comes to deal with your estate. Appointing your parents generally isn’t a great idea. Neither is appointing siblings who are some years older than you.

To get around the problem of availability, you can appoint a successor or alternate executor. You can name an alternate executor yourself. Another way to deal with this is to allow your executor to appoint someone else in their place.

How Many People Should You Choose as Executor for Your Will?

Using the online Will writing service at you can select up to three first choice co-executors, and then up to three alternate or backup executors.

You only need one executor, however, legally, you can appoint up to 4 Executors. During the administration of the estate those Executors who have obtained a Grant of Probate must act jointly. That is to say that they must all agree on a course of action and each sign any documents, etc. Clearly there may be problems if those appointed do not get on, so be careful of the personal dynamics between co-executors.

You must think carefully about whether to appoint more than one executor for your Will. It can be helpful if you have a large estate and each executor has different experience and talents. In the age of the internet world, this can be particularly useful if the executor must deal with digital assets. One of the executors may be brilliant at dealing with traditional assets, but have no idea how to deal with social media, email and all other assets in the digital world. In this case, it could be useful to appoint a traditional executor and a digital asset executor.

Too much for one person?

It may also be appropriate to appoint more than one executor so that they can share the work load. The task of administering an estate can be time consuming and it may be that more than one person would be advisable to speed up the process.

However, there are some good reasons for only naming one executor. Each executor has absolute power. Think about this for a moment. This could work perfectly well. However, it could also lead to a great deal of confusion and argument.

Only you can decide whether your executors have the potential to work together amicably. You can’t change human nature. Often what happens if you appoint more than one family member, just one person does all the work. Another thing that can happen is that family members argue about how things can be done. Think very carefully about appointing all your children or siblings as executors. Will they really get the job done efficiently?

Always Ask Permission

It is very important that you tell someone that you are thinking of appointing them as an executor of your Will. It is a responsible task. You should give them the opportunity to decline the appointment. You should also make sure that they do not feel any obligation to agree to be your executor.

It is much better that you do not create any bad feeling with your choice. Families can be difficult at the best of times! A spouse may be upset that you appoint a friend. One child may be upset that you appointed their sibling, but not them. It is usually better to have feelings out in the open at the time that you are making your Will. This should help to minimize conflict when the time comes to administer your estate.

Should You Choose an Expert as Executor for Your Will?

Most estates are straightforward and well within the capabilities of a lay person. However, if the estate is large or unusually complex you will want to consider choosing to appoint an expert as an executor for your Will.

There has been a great deal of press coverage exposing professional executors and their egregious charges. The rip off comes from the professional executor charging both a significant percentage of the estate, and then double charging by adding an hourly rate. Sometimes estate administration can be as simple as transferring a bank account from one name to a spouse’s name. If the account has £50,000 in it, the solicitor will be picking up £2,500 for about 15 minute’s work.

Beware of the unwanted Executor

One particular warning that we need TO SHOUT.

Never, ever use a Will writing service where the Will writer inserts themselves as the Executor. Many of these services offer the Will writing element for free, or discounted, and some do not even give you an option for naming your own Executor. They simply insert themselves.

This is dishonest, bordering on fraudulent. Some of our competitors do this, but also established financial institutions like Barclays do it.

Please be careful.

The best of both Worlds

If you appoint a family member as your executor, the Wills at empower the executor to seek professional help when they need it. This professional help is then paid for out of the estate. This is often the most cost effective approach whereby professionals can deal with the difficult jobs, but the costs are kept in check.

Can Executors Charge Fees?

If you use a family member or friend as an executor, they usually give their services for free. However, they can charge a fee if they wish. Few people in this situation do.

The amount that an executor can charge is regulated by law. It can be a substantial charge on the estate. This is another reason why many people do not wish to appoint a professional executor for their will. It can use up a sizeable chunk of the money in the estate. However, if your estate demands a professional executor you may have no choice. There are some large and complicated estates which do warrant appointing a professional executor. In these cases, money will need to be spent on the services of an executor.

Even if you decide that you do not want to appoint a professional to carry out all the duties of an executor, they can always be hired to handle certain aspects of the estate. This would cut down on the total fess which were due to the executor if they only complete limited tasks.

Remember to Update Your Will if Needed

Always remember that you should review your Will at least annually. You also need to look again at your Will after any major life changes.

It may well be that there aren’t any alterations to make. However, it is always wise to think about whether any circumstances have changed. This includes considering whether your choice of executor is still a wise one.

Life happens. It may be that the person you chose as an executor for your Will is in poor health. Or they may even have died. Family situations change too. Did you appoint your sister in law, but now your brother and she are experiencing marital troubles? Always have it in mind that you may need to make a change to who you have chosen as an executor for your Will.

And finally….

One final point. Please make sure that where ever you choose to store your Will, your executor must know where it is, and have access to it at the appropriate time. Too many Wills are written but the executor and beneficiaries cannot find the document when they need it. Writing a Will and hiding it, is effectively the same as having no Will at all.

One simple approach is to give your Will to your executor in a sealed envelope for safe-keeping. This protects the document against being lost in a house fire or some other tragedy.

Tim Hewson