How to Choose the Right Executor for Your Estate

When you appoint someone as the executor for your will, you are trusting them to administer all the details of your estate in an accurate and timely fashion. An executor has a legal duty to administer your estate in a responsible way, so it is vital that you choose the right person for this role.

Willing and Available

The best choice in the world is not the right one if they are unwilling or unable to carry out the duties of an executor. You should talk to the person you are considering appointing as executor and make sure they are willing to do it. Someone who is already overwhelmed with other responsibilities or who lives far away from your area might not be the right choice.

These drawbacks do not preclude the person from becoming your executor, but you should ensure that they understand what their obligations will be and are able to carry them out. The probate process usually takes a few months but can go on for years in some cases, so the individual needs to be prepared to see it through to the end. You may also want to appoint a backup in case your first choice is unable to step into the role for any reason.

Reliable and Discreet

An executor is going to get an intimate look at both your finances and your family dynamics. You want someone for this role who is going to be responsible about such things as paying creditors on time, filing your estate tax returns and distributing your belongings to your beneficiaries. This could mean navigating a complicated family situation. You need someone who can work with discretion and keep these details confidential.

Compassionate and Resolute

Your executor will be dealing with your family and other loved ones, and this will require compassion and tact since they will be grieving. However, an executor also has to be resolute because there can be a great deal of conflict in some families following a person’s death. There may be disagreement about the contents of your will or other elements of your estate plan.

Working with an estate planning lawyer to create your estate plan can reduce the likelihood of confusion over your wishes, but conflict may still occur. Whoever you appoint as executor needs to be able to deal with these conflicts sensitively but firmly, focusing above all on carrying out your wishes while balancing the needs of your beneficiaries.


Being an executor requires the ability to proceed methodically through a list of tasks, from ordering death certificates and providing them to the necessary agencies to locating and securing assets, identifying creditors, filing taxes, making distributions to beneficiaries and more. Good organization is critical to completing these tasks thoroughly and on time.


Many people appoint a spouse or an adult child as executor, and these are appropriate choices. However, there can be advantages to appointing someone who is not also a beneficiary. That person might be better able to make choices that balance your own wishes with their responsibilities to beneficiaries and their overall fiduciary duty. If you do not have any family or friends who you think can be effective in this role, you can also appoint a professional, such as an attorney.

Financially Astute

A background in business or finance can be helpful, but your executor does not have to be a financial professional. However, they should be someone who is capable of managing your estate competently and fulfilling their fiduciary duty. This becomes particularly important if you have a complex estate and if the executor needs to ensure that assets retain their value before being passed to beneficiaries.

If you are creating an estate plan, an estate planning lawyer at the Knee Law Firm can help you create one that will protect both your assets and your beneficiaries based on your individual circumstances. Email us for an appointment or contact us by phone in Hackensack, New Jersey, at 201-996-1000.