How to choose the right executor for your will

Doris Duke, the heiress to a huge tobacco fortune, did not name a trusted family member as the executor of her Will. Instead, she chose her personal butler, Bernard Lafferty, to manage her estate.

Concerns about his intentions grew when Duke became ill, and Lafferty already had a hearse waiting outside the house while she was still alive. Those close to her tried to intervene when she was on her deathbed but he barred her trusted physician, who was the previous executor of her Will, from seeing her.

Upon her death, Lafferty inherited Duke’s fortune of $1.5 billion and immediately settled into his lavish new lifestyle.

Her physician challenged the Will and the subsequent legal battle, which has since been the subject of multiple films and TV shows, eventually led to the removal of Lafferty as the executor.

Unfortunately, by this point, he had already spent a significant portion of the fortune.

This cautionary tale highlights the importance of choosing the right person as the executor of your Will. While your family may not find themselves in a scandalous situation like that of Doris Duke and Bernard Lafferty, failing to appoint the right person to handle your estate could lead to a lot of complications.

They may disagree with your wishes, for example, or they may struggle with the administration involved with the role. Ultimately, this can create unnecessary challenges for your loved ones during a difficult time.

That’s why it’s important to think about who you choose and whether they are the most suitable person, rather than simply naming your closest family member.

Read on to learn more about how to choose the right executor for your Will.

Understand the duties of an executor before making your decision

The executor of a Will has a wide range of duties and it can be quite time-consuming. Some people are better suited to the role than others, and understanding exactly what the executor will be responsible for helps you make an informed choice.

In short, the executor is the person responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in your Will. Their duties include:

  • Making sure that your property is locked up and secure, and it does not fall into a state of disrepair
  • Collecting and organising any relevant paperwork including the most up-to-date version of your Will
  • Gathering your assets including savings, pensions, investments, and material possessions
  • Calculating and paying outstanding tax and debts on the estate
  • Distributing your estate according to your Will
  • Arranging your funeral.

In most cases, the executor will also have to apply for a grant of probate so they have the legal right to manage your estate. There are only a few exceptions when they will not have to do this.

This may be the case if the estate consists only of cash and personal belongings with a value of less than £5,000, or all the assets are held jointly with somebody who is still alive, for example. However, this is unlikely to be the circumstances for most people.

Anybody over the age of 18 with the mental capacity to do so is eligible to be an executor of your Will. It is important to consider who is well-equipped to deal with all the important duties of an executor when making your decision.

Organisation skills, compassion, and financial knowledge are all important in an executor

Finding a person who can take on the role of executor and manage your estate efficiently can be a challenge. When considering who you should appoint, there are some crucial traits to look for:

  • Organisation skills – There is a lot of administration involved, so choose somebody who can handle this efficiently. Otherwise, your beneficiaries may be waiting a long time for their inheritance.
  • Compassion – The executor of your Will distributes your assets among family members and this can be emotionally challenging. Finding somebody who is compassionate and can communicate well during this difficult time can make the situation easier for everybody involved.
  • Financial knowledge – The executor of your Will must deal with lots of financial documents relating to pensions or investments. They may also need to calculate the Inheritance Tax (IHT) on your estate. Having somebody with good financial knowledge who understands these complicated concepts can be useful.

You may also want to consider whether the person you choose will have the time to manage everything. Additionally, it is useful to think about their age and lifestyle, and choose somebody who is likely to be alive and in good health when you pass away.

Finally, it is often beneficial to choose multiple executors for your Will. This allows people to share the responsibilities and it also means that if one executor is unable to fulfil the duties, there is still somebody to administer the estate.

Up to four executors can work together, but bear in mind that too many could cause disputes and complications. Often, people name one executor and then name replacement executors who will step in should something happen to the first person.

You can appoint a professional as the executor of your Will

It is possible that you could die without a suitable executor for your Will in place. This typically happens if you name a single beneficiary for your Will and they cannot act as an executor because they are not mentally capable, for example.

In this instance, a government body called “the Public Trustee” will manage your estate. While they will follow the wishes outlined in your Will, it can make the situation more difficult for your family as they will deal with a stranger rather than a family member or friend.

If you have trouble finding somebody suitable, you don’t necessarily have to appoint a friend or family member. You can appoint a professional such as a solicitor or accountant as the executor of your will instead.

This can be beneficial because they may find it easier to navigate the technical financial aspects of being an executor if none of your family or friends feel confident enough to do so.

Get in touch

Thinking ahead and putting a clear estate plan in place can make life much easier for your family when you are gone. If you need some assistance with this, we are here to help.

Email or call 0330 828 4714 for more information.

Please note

This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning, tax planning or will writing.

Are you retirement ready?