A lot of people put off completing their estate documents. I thought it was because they didn’t know how to pick an attorney, so I would share a short list of good attorneys… they still wouldn’t schedule a meeting. Why? Upon further conversation, 9 times out of 10, it is because they don’t know who to list as the executor of their will.

So, who should you list as your executor? First note, you will select a PRIMARY executor and a CONTINGENT executor. The contingent executor will only inherit the job IF the primary executor is deceased, unable, or unwilling to serve.

If you have a spouse, they should probably be your primary executor. Your spouse has the most knowledge of your wishes, understanding of your assets, and access to your information and professionals.

If you aren’t married or have unique reasons to not select your spouse, use the following points for selecting a primary executor. Otherwise, these tips will help you choose your contingent:

1) Someone reasonably young and healthy

Your estate documents should be reviewed with a professional at least every 10 years or after any notable life changes. For that reason, it is ok to select an executor who is older than you. If your executor became unhealthy or unable a couple of decades down the road from now… well that’s fine, change them then.

Your executor should be reasonably young and healthy and have the energy to deal with the task now. If your parents, aunt, uncle, etc. meet those qualifications, you could consider them. They don’t have to be younger than you.

2) Someone trustworthy

My rule is, if you don’t trust them alone in your house with a key to your safe, don’t trust them to be your executor.

It is important to choose an executor who always had your best interest at heart during your life. After your death, they will be keeping your beneficiaries’ best interest in mind.

Your executor will probably be the one digging through your documents and personal belongings when you are gone. If they find $1,000 stashed away, do you trust them to ensure it’s appropriately attributed to your assets for your beneficiaries?

Do you trust them to take care of your home and maintain its value while it’s being sold? Are they responsible enough to notify the courts, keep accurate records, and call insurance companies? If your little brother is still backpacking across Europe and has never looked at a financial statement in his life, consider giving him a few more years before choosing him as your executor.

3) Someone who has the time

If your sister has 3 kids under age 5, has to travel for work, and takes care of her elderly in-laws, please… do NOT name her as your executor at this point in time.

Being an executor is a doable job. Truly, for most estates, it can be done without an excessive amount of work. However, there is work. There are meetings. There are calls, signatures, tax returns, and more. Don’t choose someone whose time and resources are already tapped out.

This is another reason why I increasingly see people select their recently retired (still healthy) parents as their executor.

Bonus Suggestion

Consider telling your attorney you would like to pay your executor. Name a dollar amount you want them to receive.

There is a fair amount of work that might require your executor to take time off their job. I’d hate for my executor to feel resentment if she found that I had her do this whole job, while I didn’t even name her as a beneficiary. A little pay for her duties could go a long way.


Estate documents can be tough, but they are important! Especially if you are a parent, it really is crucial that you make the time to create these papers for your family. Have you set up your estate documents? What advice would you give to those who have put off this task?