Part of doing estate planning involves picking an executor for the estate plan. This person essentially carries out that plan and takes care of everything that needs to happen. For instance, they may have to pay taxes, take stock of the assets, distribute money to the heirs as named in the will, and the like.
Most of the time, people pick family members. Spouses get listed in some cases, as do siblings. Most often, though, it’s an adult child. The estate plan can change as people grow up. For instance, someone may pick a sibling or a spouse when they’re younger and their children are minors. Once their children become adults, they may change the plan so that the child becomes the executor.
However, you do not have to pick a family member. There’s no obligation to do so. People just do it because it’s simple and easy. They also figure that the family member will have the best understanding of what they want to happen with the estate plan and how to contact everyone involved.
Those are reasons that this is a good idea and why it can work. To decide if it’s really wise, though, you have to take a look at the other side of the coin.
Will it start an estate dispute?
Picking a family member as the executor does run the risk of starting an estate dispute.
Say you have a problem child who has never gotten along with the rest of your children. If you put one of those other children in charge of the estate, is the problem child going to challenge it just because of who is telling them what will happen? They may resent that they did not get selected. They may stir up old arguments and rivalries. If you give the job to a third party instead, someone who is not in your family, will the problem child accept what they have to say?
Or, say you want to leave unequal amounts of money to your children. One child is well off and needs nothing, so the other, who has financial troubles, gets more. That child with the financial troubles also lives close to home and so you pick them as the executor. Will the other child challenge it? Will they allege that the executor is acting unfairly in their own best interests? Will they accuse them of using undue influence on you because they lived close to home?
What should you do?
This isn’t to say you should not pick a family member. Most people do. You just really want to consider all of the potential ramifications. You need to know exactly what legal options you have.