How to choose the right executor for your will

When you finally sit down to consider the contents of your will — basically, what goes to whom — naming an executor (“liquidator” in Quebec) is likely the biggest task.

After all, you’re expecting this person (or persons; more about that below) to fulfil all your final wishes when you’re no longer there. By definition, then, your executor is someone you trust. It’s also someone who’s willing to shoulder a big responsibility. Because, depending on the size and complexity of your estate, it can be a lot of work, stretching over many months.

Your executor will liaise with government agencies, banks and institutions, pay taxes, manage and dispose of assets, and disperse whatever is left to your heirs. Delays, red tape and unforeseen obstacles are baked into the process. So patience is definitely a virtue.

9 pieces of advice when appointing an executor

  1. Choose someone you trust. Most people choose a family member because of the trust factor. They’re already familiar with the family dynamics, and can more easily navigate trouble spots. A spouse can be your executor, unless you believe their grief, coupled with the heavy responsibilities, may be too big a burden. A close friend can also serve as an executor.
  2. Ask first. To repeat, it’s a big job. So ask the person if they’re up to it.
  3. Get backup. To reduce the burden, you can appoint co-executors. But make sure they get along! Siblings with a history of bickering can be a poor choice. Use your judgment.
  4. Consider their qualifications. An executor doesn’t usually need special skills. But if your estate is complex, does he or she have the business skills to manage the estate to your heirs’ best advantage? Trustworthiness trumps business savvy, but the latter is a definite asset.
  5. Get professional advice. With complex estates, speak to a lawyer, notary and/or accountant before writing your will. (In some cases, you might even appoint a professional trustee as your executor. These are usually legal or financial professionals.) You can also advise your executor to get professional guidance, but keep in mind — professional guidance comes with professional fees, paid from your estate.
  6. Keep it close to home. Your executor should live in the same city or town as your family. Settling an estate remotely — even within the same province — will cause delays.
  7. Respect their age. A trusted elderly uncle may have your respect, but consider the effort needed to manage your estate and whether an elderly person’s condition will support these efforts. Plus, of course, an untimely death could further complicate matters.
  8. Review your options. Every three years, review your will and re-consider your choices.
  9. Consider provincial legislation and regulations. Laws and regulations differ from province to province. Quebec, for example, has entirely different terminology and laws based on a different legal code. A lawyer or other legal professional can help you navigate these requirements.

In most cases, your choice of executor will be obvious. It should be a person you trust and respect, and who also trusts and respects you in return.

Note: This post is provided for information only and does not constitute legal  advice.