That house you own, and your other valued possessions, you want to make sure after your death that the wishes in your Will are fulfilled. So it’s incumbent that you choose the right person to be executor of your Will. Photo by Mickey Conlon

Choosing an executor is no easy task

By  Peter Okonski, Catholic Register Special
  • October 29, 2020

Naming an estate trustee, commonly known as executor, is one of the most important decisions you will make while preparing a Will.

The role of the estate trustee is to make sure that, after your death, the wishes in your Will are fulfilled. The legal requirements to be an executor are very basic: minimum age of 18 and mental capacity. 

Have you considered who you should appoint as your estate trustee? It is worth considering whether, in your situation, it would be prudent to name more than one. 

Many people designate their spouses, children, other family members or friends. Others prefer to choose a professional or a corporate trustee.

The duties of an estate trustee are not easy. These responsibilities include identifying all assets; determining their value and creating the inventory; contacting all beneficiaries; determination and payment of debts; opening of an estate bank account; preparation and filing of tax returns and paying taxes; keeping track of all financial transactions; and distributing the assets according to the wishes expressed in the Will.

The main goal of the estate trustee should be prompt, efficient and accurate distribution of your estate. It should be a person (or persons) who is well-organized, financially savvy, lives close by and, of course, whom you trust. These attributes should help in dealing with your estate in a timely manner. Keep in mind that the average life expectancy is increasing so consider choosing someone who is a generation younger than you.

Being an estate trustee is a great responsibility. Talk to the person (or persons) whom you wish would take this responsibility to find out whether they would agree. It is possible to name executors in succession (“If X does not survive me, I appoint Y to be my Estate Trustee”), or more than one to work together. This way, if someone declines or dies, the other(s) would replace them.

In case there is no one among your loved ones you would feel comfortable naming as your estate trustee, or if the family dynamics suggest potential disagreements, consider a professional, e.g. your lawyer or a corporate trustee. The primary purpose of the latter is to provide estate trustee and other trustee services. Established as a trust company, these institutions are federally regulated and are obligated to respect the wishes of their clients. They offer expertise and experience of their teams of professionals. 

The estate trustee is entitled to receive compensation. It is possible to negotiate the price for services offered by corporate trustees keeping in mind that the price depends on the complexity of the estate. In general, corporate trustees’ fees are comparable with the usual compensation claimed by the executors who are family members.

However, a trustee who is also a beneficiary, especially a sole beneficiary, tends to not claim any compensation for a simple reason that it is treated as taxable income while inheritance is not subject to tax.

Spend some time considering who would be the best candidates to become your estate trustees. After all, this is not about who is most likeable and friendly, but who is most qualified to complete the task of fulfilling your wishes in a timely and efficient manner.

(Okonski is the Manager, Planned Giving & Personal Gifts, at the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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