Will you choose your daughter or your son? Before you decide, consider the following:
Success means nothing. Just because someone is a financial professional, even an accountant, doesn’t mean he or she will be a great executor of your estate. Think of it like a good doctor who would be a challenging patient or an accomplished lawyer who shouldn’t represent herself.
People can be great at their jobs and horrible at managing their and your personal affairs. I know accountants, financial planners and even bankers who are terrible when it comes to managing their own money. Once, the wife of an accountant at my church stopped me after the service and begged for financial help. She said her husband spent all day crunching numbers and just couldn’t do the same at home. But because he was an accountant, he felt as though he should be the family treasurer. Yet she was better organized and much more conscientious about their spending. Bills were paid late, and he had gotten them into some deals that were draining them financially.
The executor (this person may be referred to by another term, depending on the state) is responsible for identifying assets and determining whether there any debts that need to be paid, as well as taking care of any tax liabilities. The job could take a couple of years or more. So you need to consider which adult child or relative has the patience to handle your estate.
It’s not easy taking care of people’s debts and assets, especially when real estate is involved.
“Dealing with the death of a parent is challenging, but selling their home can be fraught with land mines, particularly if they die without a will,” Pamela Babcock wrote for The Washington Post. “Family members consumed by grief may be unable to make decisions, [letting] homes that may have already languished fall further into disrepair. How children handle the sale of a parent’s home is often key to whether they end up staying a family or never speaking to each other again.”
Age ain’t nothing but a number. The eldest adult child is typically the choice to be executor for many parents, but she or he may not be able to handle what can be the tedious, time-consuming and complicated task of settling an estate. Maturity isn’t an inherent trait of the firstborn. It may seem the fairest thing to do to select your eldest child to handle your estate, but it may not be the wisest.
Here’s a case of a procrastinating executor unable to complete the task of settling her father’s estate: Ask Amy: Sibling has skipped out on executor duties
It’s not just about money. Harmony matters, too. Someone can be a great money manager but awful at dealing with people. Consider selecting an executor who will try to keep the peace and not antagonize your heirs or their siblings. This is particularly the case if you know your children don’t get along well. So, choose the adult child who is a mediator, not a born agitator.
You may find this Kiplinger article helpful: What traits make for a good executor, and who by default is unable to serve?
One of the reasons you should have a will and carefully plan the distribution of your assets is to minimize — as best you can — the emotional and financial chaos after you die. I’ve seen it time and time again: When people select the wrong executor, they leave behind a hot mess. And this can lead to lawsuits, with legal fees eating up a lot of the money you had hoped to leave to your heirs.
It’s like what the Knight said in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”: “But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”
Who will handle your estate, and how did you make the decision? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Estate Executor.”
Retirement Rants and Raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement and aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?
If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?
You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
Last week, I wrote about scams and seniors.
I asked readers to share their scam stories. One story stood out.
Laura from Amherst, N.H., said her parents nearly were caught in the “grandparent scam” in which a scammer calls a grandparent claiming to be a grandchild. But it’s all a con to get the grandparent to folk over cash, often via gift cards.
Laura wrote: “It started with my dad answering the phone only to hear a male voice say, ‘Hi, Grandpa, guess who this is?’ And, my dad answered, ‘Well, it sounds like Nathan” (one of my sons), to which the voice replied, ‘Yeah, I’ve been arrested and need bail money, please don’t tell Mom and Dad.’ Now, my parents, in their 80s, are busy dealing with medical issues but love their grandchildren. My parents were willing to help out their grandson to the point of my mom going to Best Buy to purchase $6,000 in gift cards as bail money. Fortunately, both the store and her credit card had limits on how much she could purchase. The scammer called their home multiple times trying to steer my mom into how to get the money. Fortunately, she called my younger brother for help, and he knew immediately what was going on. He told my parents to call me at home to ask about Nathan’s whereabouts. And they were relieved, but embarrassed, to find out he was upstairs in his room.”
The scammer didn’t get any card numbers, Laura said. “But my mom was prepared to go to great lengths for her grandson. It was ultimately the phone call to my brother that saved them. I’m thankful they at least reached out to him.”
What a cautionary tale. Here’s a blog post from the Federal Trade Commission. Pass it along: Grandpa spots scammers
Subscribe and stay informed
If you’re viewing this post online, sign up to automatically receive Michelle Singletary’s newsletters right into your inbox: “Your Retirement” on Mondays and “Personal Finance” on Thursdays.
Read and share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays in The Washington Post. You may also see the column in your local newspaper.