There are a number of very important decisions you have to make as part of the creation of an estate plan. One of the most important is the selection of your executor or successor trustee. Whether you choose one person or several people serving together will depend on the specifics of your family. Your estate planning attorney can help you sort through the benefits and drawbacks of all of your options.
When you begin the process of contemplating who should be your executor or successor trustee, it is important to select someone who is best equipped to carry out the instructions you've laid out in your plan. To help in this process, it is useful to avoid any possible confusion or misconceptions about the process of selecting your executor or successor trustee.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that you have to choose only one person. This is definitely untrue. Each family is different and so, the person or people serving in this capacity will look differently. For some families, there may be one person who is uniquely well-suited to take on these responsibilities. Perhaps, for example, among your group of children, there is one who has the closest relationship with you, lives the closest to you geographically and also has the strongest acumen when it comes to business, legal and financial matters. For a family like this, it may make sense to name this child as both your executor and your first successor trustee.
In a lot of families, though, this will not be the case. You may have one child who lives nearby while a different one has the greatest legal and financial skill. In this example, you may want to consider making both of these children co-executors or co-trustees. It is very important to make sure that, if you name multiple people to serve at the same time, that they are people who can work together successfully to ensure the most efficient carrying out of your instructions.
You should also take care to name alternates in the event that your most preferred people cannot serve, whether due to their death, illness of other reasons. Naming second and third alternates helps to ensure that your plan will not be saddled with needing a judge to name someone to serve. This will cause delay, expense and may result in someone serving whom you didn't want.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, depending on where you live, the person or people you want to serve as your executor (or one co-executor) may be ineligible. Some states have rules that limit executors to people who are residents of that state, or who make non-residents jump through extra procedural hoops in order to serve. One thing to keep in mind is that there are no similar rules restricting who may serve as the trustee of your living trust.
If the person or people you prefer live in a different state from you then, depending on where you reside, this may be another good reason to look at the possible advantages of including a revocable living trust in your estate plan. Selecting the documents to go in your plan, as well as the people to carry out the instructions of your plan, is one of the many pieces of the estate planning puzzle that your estate planning attorney can help you as you sort through the “plusses” and “minuses” of each option.