One of the key decisions that have to be made when you are writing a Will is who will administer it when you are gone. That is, who will be the Executor of your Will? Many people pick their spouses or one of their grown-up children, or a close relative or close friend. If you are single, you might choose a sibling or a best friend.
These are rational, convenient choices and typically work well when the estate you leave behind is not particularly complex. The basic duties of an Executor include locating and managing your assets, paying off any debts that you may have incurred when alive, taking care of the costs and administrative expenses of the estate, and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries according to the provisions that have been made in the Will. The Executor may also have to file any necessary tax returns on your behalf.
Executors must have good character
An important factor to consider when choosing your Executor has to do with character and personality. He or she should be honest and trustworthy, and the Executor should also be able to deal with family members who are may be fighting each other to grab a piece of the estate that you have left behind. This can happen if the Will and distribution of assets is not meticulously worded or if an asset is missed in the writing of the Will. To deal with such situations if they arise, it is important that the Executor has a calm demeanour and is patient, as well as being good at problem solving and conflict resolution.
It should be noted that no payment is made from the estate to the Executor for his or her time, unless it is expressly provided for in the Will. The role of the Executor is sometimes time-consuming, so it is important to choose a candidate who has the time to do it properly. Also, it is ideal that the Executor resides in the country where your assets are located to ensure the efficient administration of the estate. For instance, it may be time-consuming and expensive to ask a sibling in Canada to be the Executor of your estate in Singapore.
If your estate is extensive, for example, with properties in multiple countries, appointing a family member as the Executor may not be the right choice, unless they have experience in legal and financial matters across multiple jurisdictions, or know where to find the right people in that country to start a probate process. Language barriers can be one issue that has to be overcome.
Furthermore, it makes more sense to write a Will in each of those countries to ensure a timely distribution of assets to the beneficiaries is possible. Multiple Wills allow for simultaneous probate proceedings in different countries rather than waiting for a probate to be finalised in one country based on a single Will before moving to the next country with the same Will. In some cases, the Will may have to be translated, which will take time and money. In such situations, it makes more sense to appoint an Executor who knows the law of the land in the countries where your properties are located. For this purpose, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer or an estate planner who is experienced with probate and estate administration issues across multiple jurisdictions.
Before you appoint your Executor, you should ensure that the person is interested in taking on the role. It is also important to name an alternate Executor in your Will, just in case your first pick becomes incapacitated or dies, or is unable to perform the duties for any reason. While it may seem like a cheaper and more convenient option to appoint a family member or friend as your Executor, if you foresee that the handling of your estate could become a burden for a grieving family member or friend, it may be better to defer to a professional.
It should also be noted that if an estate is not dealt with correctly, Executors are personally liable for any claims made against your estate. As such, appointing a professional from an estate planning firm removes personal liability.
In the next blog post, we look at how the protector of a trust keeps watch over the trust over the period in which it is effective