An executor is a person named in your Will who is responsible for locating all your property and making sure it is distributed to the beneficiaries according to your wishes. You can choose whoever you like (and you can choose more than one person), but it’s important to choose an appropriate person.
What does an executor do?
Your executor carries out the instructions in your Will. He or she must ensure that all of your property and assets are located, and distributed according to your wishes. It can be a complicated job and may take several months. If your Will is challenged in court (for example, by a relative who was not provided for in your Will), the process might take several years to resolve.
If you have minor children, the executor is often responsible for looking after the inheritance until the children reach 18 or 21.
Jobs that an executor might do include:
- Decide if and when to sell your property so that the beneficiaries obtain the best outcome;
- Make sure that the proper taxes are considered and paid, such as capital gains tax and income tax.
Who can be an executor of a will?
Anyone aged 18 or above can be an executor of your Will. Most people will choose their spouse as a first choice, and older people often chose their adult children. There’s no rule against the executor being someone who inherits something (or everything) under the Will, and this is very common.
You can choose up to four executors, but they have to act jointly (that is, all have to agree), so this can be impractical. It’s a good idea to choose an alternate executor, in case the chosen executor is unable, or unwilling, to act when the time comes. For example, you might choose one family member and one professional, like a lawyer or accountant.
Professional executors (a lawyer or accountant) will charge for their time (and this will come out of your estate), but it can be helpful for the family you leave behind to have someone with experience and expertise deal with these matters.
What makes a good executor?
You should choose someone you trust, and someone who is likely to be competent to deal with the organisation of your assets and financial matters. If you think that there is likely to be disputes between family members after you have gone, you need someone who can deal with that.
If you leave something to a person in your Will, he or she can still be your executor – but can’t be a witness when you sign your Will.
Family members as executors
If there’s someone in your family who you think will handle the job well, it can be a good idea to have them as an executor. For example, it’s very common to name one of your children, a niece or nephew or an adult grandchild.
Make sure you check with your proposed executor before you finalise your Will.
Lawyers and accountants as executors
Choosing a lawyer as one of your executors can be a good idea, especially if sorting out your affairs is likely to be complicated. A lawyer has the necessary experience and independence to handle the job without emotional involvement, and ensure that your loved ones are dealt with fairly and professionally. If you have a trusted accountant, and your finances are complicated, he or she may also be a good choice.
Of course, these professionals will charge you for their work, and the fees will be deducted from your estate.
If you don’t have anyone who can be an executor
As a last resort, there’s a government official called the Public Trustee
who will do the job if there’s really nobody else who can do it. If you don’t know who to choose, or the executor you choose is unable or unwilling to do the job (or dies before you), then the Public Trustee will step in and make sure that your Will is administered according to the law.
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