Dear Carrie, I'm refining my estate plan and am uncertain about which of my four children to name as executor and trustee. I feel like it should be my oldest son, but my youngest daughter is an accountant and has more financial knowledge. What would you do in my situation? --A Reader
Dear Reader, Choosing the right person or people to handle the management of your assets after you die merits a lot of thought. While it's pretty common to appoint a family member or friend, that's not your only choice. A lot depends on your personal situation -- both the complexity of your estate as well as family dynamics.
Appointing a family member can be seen as a symbol of love and faith. However, in the case of multiple siblings, it could be interpreted as an expression of trust in one child over another. So I can understand your dilemma. But while there's an emotional component to this choice, you need to try to keep sentiment in check. To me, it's really about who will do the best job.
Of course, you want someone you trust implicitly to be fair to all your beneficiaries. However, you also need someone with the expertise and personality to handle a myriad of financial details over time. Being an executor (of your will) or trustee (of your trust) is a big responsibility that can go on for years. One or another of your children may well be equipped for the job. But before you make a choice, I'd step back and give some thought to the following questions.
What type of management will your estate require?
The bigger your estate, the bigger the job. An executor or trustee's responsibilities can involve not only the settling of accounts and distribution of assets, but also the ongoing management of those assets for current as well as future beneficiaries. There are tax and legal documents to file, records to keep, and ongoing financial decisions to make. If your assets are extensive and your estate is complicated, this person may need the help of outside advisors to carry out your wishes.
(SET BOLD) Who is most suited professionally? Emotionally? Practically? (END BOLD)
On top of having financial savvy, an executor or trustee must be responsible, practical, organized and able to handle potential pressure from beneficiaries with different needs and requests. Which of your children best combines these traits?
For instance, while your eldest son may have the most authority in the family, would he need more help with financial management? And while your daughter may have the financial knowhow, does she have the temperament to deal impartially with her siblings?