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Ask Dave

Competency and integrity

Joyce says she has been told you shouldn't allow a family member to act as executor of your will. Dave doesn't necessarily agree with this opinion. He says as long as the family member has integrity and is competent, it's perfectly fine to ask them to serve in this capacity.

QUESTION: Joyce from Indianapolis, Indiana, asks Dave if he has strong feelings as to who should be the executor of a will. She’s heard that you shouldn’t ask a family member to do this, but Dave doesn’t necessarily agree with that advice.

ANSWER: A family member who is competent and has integrity can definitely be the executor. “Executor” means they execute, thus the name. They’re going to execute the wishes of the will. If the family member has the business acumen to execute however complicated this particular will is, and you think they have the integrity to follow through and do so properly, then that's perfectly fine.

Let me give you an example. You have an extremely complicated estate, like 80 pieces of real estate with investments and everything, and you put a 22-year-old kid just out of college as your executor. That’s probably going to crash their life, right? You don’t want to do that. But you can say: “I want my home sold and the proceeds divided between my three kids. And my son who runs a business is going to be the executor and make that happen.” That’s perfectly fine.

My aunt was the executor of my grandmother’s will for two reasons. One is she’s excellent with mathematics, because she’s a math teacher, and the other is because she lived in the immediate area. It was her two older brothers that she executed the will for. So it happened to be the youngest kid who was the right one to be the executor. Sometimes it’s not the oldest, in other words. It just needs to be somebody who can pull it off emotionally and mathematically or business-wise. So if it’s not complicated, it doesn’t require somebody with a huge business background.

The people who say family shouldn’t do this are the same ones who say you shouldn’t have family in your business. You can have family in your business. You just have to have good boundaries, clear roles, and mature people. But if your kids are fighting all the time and they don’t get along already—and you throw one of them in the middle of a will—you’re going to get a fight.

The other thing you’ve got to do is give clear instructions. Let’s say you have three kids and you make one of them the executor. I’d sit down with all three of them and explain who the executor’s going to be, along with what the will says. Here’s what I want to do with my stuff, and Joe’s going to take care of that. I’m also going to go ahead and have a reading of the will while I’m alive. We do that and go over our estate plan once a year.

Go ahead and communicate to the whole family, because that takes the pressure off the executor. Sometimes people get mad at the executor, and they’re only doing what the person who wrote the will wanted them to do. And they’re bound to do that by law! So don’t be mad at the executor, be mad at the person who died and didn’t leave you the stuff you wanted if you have to be mad at somebody.

But it usually gets rid of all that if you sit everybody down in a room and let them all know who gets the china cabinet, who gets the workbench, and what’s going to happen with the house and the money. That’s what the will says, and the executor is in charge. It doesn’t need to be some big secret.