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How should I evaluate a potential trustee or executor?

On behalf of Steven Waldinger

The decision about who to appoint as a trustee or an executor of your will is not one to take lightly. These roles come with significant responsibilities, making it important that you properly assess potential candidates before making your selection.

When developing an estate plan, one of the decisions people in New York must make is who they will name as the trustee of their trust or the executor of their will. If a person creates both a trust and a will, they will need to identify a responsible party for each.

The role of either a trustee or an executor can come with a significant level of responsibility and require the person to appropriately execute the wishes of the deceased. A trustee or an executor may also encounter unforeseen situations, such as family disputes, and they must be able to effectively navigate those while completing their responsibilities.

Family and friends may not be the best options

People often – and understandably – start their selection process for a trustee or an executor by evaluating those closest to them. These people would have good insight into the wishes of the person creating the estate plan and they would also likely know any beneficiaries well. This closeness, however, may be the very reason that makes a person far from the best candidate for the job.

However, Forbes recommends people look beyond their social and especially familial circles when evaluating their trustee and executor options. The close relations between this person and other beneficiaries may contribute to conflicts, often based on rivalries and resentments built up over many years. When tensions flare during the process of settling an estate, the conflict may extend the time and costs associated with completing all tasks.

Many financial and legal professionals may be named to act as an executor or trustee in lieu of a family member or close friend.

Evaluate skills similarly to a job hire

It can be helpful to evaluate candidates for the role of a trustee or executor similarly to how a potential job candidate is evaluated – based on their experience and credentials. Kiplinger explains that a person’s own financial responsibility be carefully reviewed as this can be a predictor of how adept they may be in handling the financial matters of the estate.

When it comes to the skills needed to be an executor or a trustee, soft skills matter as well. In particular, people are encouraged to seek executors or trustees known for their ability to navigate sometimes complex and even adversarial situations without adding unnecessary fuel to the fire.

Legal input always helps

New York residents considering their options for an executor or trustee should consult with an attorney for guidance. Having a great estate plan in place matters greatly, but so too does having the right party ready to execute that plan.