Executors, Trustees and Powers of Attorney: Blessing or Curse?

When choosing the people you trust the most to serve as a part of your estate plan in any capacity, whether they be a family member, close friend or trusted individual in the community, it is important to understand the role that you are asking them to play. Serving as the executor of your estate, the trustee of your trust, as your healthcare representative or power of attorney is not a blessing. Making sure that the people you ask to fulfill these roles ahead of time understand that is crucial to ensuring that your estate plan is carried out effectively and to your wishes.

Managing Expectations

Many people feel that being chosen for one of these roles is a great honor. After all, being asked to serve as someone’s power of attorney or trustee means that there is a presence of trust in the relationship. After all, out of all the people who could have been chosen, out of all the people who could have been asked, you asked that specific person to handle your affairs.

But while many people will gladly agree to hold one of these positions of power, few have a clear understanding of what duties these roles entail, let alone the amount of time, effort and energy that will have to be expended in order to fulfill the role adequately.

Take for example the executor of a person’s estate after they have passed. Under the New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, an executor has certain duties that must be performed beyond just entering the will, including:

  •         Notifying relatives and creditors
  •         Creating an inventory of all estate assets
  •         Hiring professionals and consultants to manage and appraise assets
  •         Filing all necessary tax forms, state and federal
  •         Distributing estate assets and paying off estate creditors
  •         Closing out the estate

Trustees and powers of attorney may perform similar functions for trusts and individuals during their lifetime.

Choosing Those Who Can Not Only Handle the Responsibility But Want To

It is easy to agree to serve as a person’s executor, trustee or power of attorney when you do not have to perform the role at the time. It is not until later when the actual time comes to serve in this role that many come to regret agreeing to serve in the first place. The biggest risk though is that the person that you have asked and chosen to serve in this capacity refuses to serve when they are called upon. After all, even if you name someone as your executor or trustee does not mean that they must agree. If the person you have chosen to serve in anyone of these roles refuses to do so, your estate plan may be hampered and frustrated.

This is why it is important when choosing those you trust the most to serve as the primary actors in your estate that they not only know of the responsibilities and costs of what they are agreeing to but that they are also willing to do so. Failure to make sure that they understand ahead of time can spell disaster for your estate plan otherwise.

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