Who should I nominate as the Executor of my Will, is a question my clients often ask me. In the past, I believed that appointing a surviving spouse or family member to act as your Executor, was in your best interests. The thinking behind this was that by appointing a family member or spouse, you could negotiate and reduce the fee that the Executor charges. Over time though, I have become more and more aware of the emotional strain that this puts on the surviving spouse or family member.
The responsibility of an Executor is an onerous one. It is the Executor’s responsibility to carry out the directives in your Will, and take responsibility for making all the necessary disbursements from your estate and filing the correct documentation with the relevant authorities. The Executor remains responsible for this forever.
In some instances, where the surviving spouse has been nominated as the Executor, we find that the children get involved. They may have a friend who is a lawyer or accountant who offers to perform this function at a nominal fee. The problem here is that the lawyer or accountant may not wind up estates as a profession, so despite the nominal fee, the estate isn’t wound up properly. Decisions that were made in estate planning meetings with both spouses are often disregarded, and it takes years to wind up the estate.
One instance of this is a client of mine, whose husband died 15 years ago, and there are still shares in his name that have not been finalised and paid across to her. The Executor has since died, and the estate has been left in a heap. My client has since remarried, and her second husband is concerned that, should something happen to her, this will now become his responsibility when he was not involved in the first place.
Another instance is where an elderly couple in the Eastern Cape had nominated each other as their Executors, with the intention of the surviving spouse appointing an Agent to wind up the first spouse’s estate. The surviving spouse at that stage was 84, and not in good health herself. Even though she did appoint Chartered Legacy & Trust to assist us with winding up her late husband’s estate, she had to personally go to SARS to fulfil certain of her responsibilities as the Executor of the estate. She was pushed from pillar to post at SARS, which left her distraught, and in a very emotional state.
From experience, both through our clients’ stories and our own, we have come to respect the fee earned by Executors, and urge clients not to burden anyone but a professional Executor with this appointment. If there is a specific instance where a person would like a member of the family or friend to be involved in winding up the estate, they should instead consider appointing them as co-Executor along with a professional Executor.