How to Choose Your Probate Executor or Trust Trustee

One question estate planning clients often struggle with is who to appoint as a probate executor for a will or a trustee for a trust. Although people often only look at such decisions they make as the “honor” or “privilege,” a lawyer will try to stress to their clients that such an appointment will also be a true commitment and obligation of the person or entity who is eventually appointed to handle a probate or trust estate. In an estate, executors and trustees are often tasked with combing through financial documentation or family belongings, selling assets such as personal property and real estate, distributing probate assets to beneficiaries, handling all potential or actual creditors of the estate, and, if the family is not in agreement, negotiating any contested issues between the family members or any other beneficiaries in the administration and eventual closing of such probate or trust estate.

Choosing the Right Person

Many clients choose a close family member or very close friend to serve in such a probate or trust role. Doing so ensures that the appointed individual personally knows the person they serve on behalf of, giving our client a sense of comfort that their wishes will be followed. The hope is that such an appointed individual may have been advised by our client as to at least some of our client’s assets, although we have too often found that such is not the case. We often see major difficulties also arise when a family member or friend serves and does not know the proper steps to take. This is a strong reason for an attorney to be hired to assist them in walking through the probate or trust estate administration, and a standard step (hiring an attorney to assist) that is regularly taken.

Choosing a Financial Institution Instead 

Other clients instead choose a financial institution, such as a local bank or trust company, to serve as executor for a will in a probate estate or instead as trustee for a trust in a trust administration. Many clients are hesitant to hire a bank or trust company because of fees they will charge or the fact that such entity did not know the deceased individual well, but having a third-party bank or trust company serve as an executor or trustee often is a good idea for that very reason, as a “detached” third party will follow the written instructions of the client without being swayed by emotion or family arm-twisting. Furthermore, banks and trust companies regularly serve in such roles and are accustomed to all steps necessary to administer a probate or trust estate.

The Best Way to Choose 

There is no “one size fits all” answer for all clients as for who they each should appoint as executor of a probate estate and/or Trustee for trust administration.  Doing so takes careful consideration and will depend on many factors such as closeness and trust of family, ability and availability for an appointed person to serve, comfort and confidence in a financial institution to serve. Contact an experienced estate planning lawyer, like one from Carpenter & Lewis, PLLC, to get assistance today. 

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