Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be interested in writing a will. If you have decided to write a will, you can find out more about making a will here. One key consideration in making a will is who you would like to appoint as your executor or executors.
For a quick summary on who should be your executor, download our free guide to will-making here:
What Does an Executor Do?
An executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the deceased as outlined in his/her will. These include:
- Making funeral arrangements
- Applying to court for a Grant of Probate (a court order to allow the executor to start the process of disposing of the estate)
- Locating all the relevant assets of the deceased
- Paying any debts owed by the deceased, including any tax liability incurred
- Distributing the assets to the beneficiaries under the will
This is a relatively lengthy process, and selecting someone who is financially savvy can be especially helpful for large estates.
Executors are considered fiduciaries, which means the law holds them to a particularly exacting standard in ensuring they fully carry out the wishes of the deceased honestly, diligently and fairly.
What are the Legal Requirements to be an Executor?
You can pick an executor whom you know personally. An executor can also be a beneficiary under the will, so it is possible to select your spouse or an adult child as long as the executor is over 21, not a bankrupt and is of sound mind.
Alternatively, you could pick a professional executor. This would be either a lawyer or a trust company licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
It is also possible to have more than one executor, so one may appoint two adult children, or a lawyer and a trusted family friend as joint executors, for example.
What Broader Considerations Should I Have When Selecting an Executor?
Looking at the duties of executors and the options available, we can see that several options are available:
- A close relative who may be a beneficiary under the will
- A trusted family friend who is not a beneficiary under the will
- A professional trustee
- Some combination of the above involving two or more executors.
Choosing a close relative
Being appointed as an executor can be seen as an honour, and close relatives may consider it their duty to act as your executor.
Crucially, a close relative would often be in the best position to know you and your wishes well, and you would likely have had the chance to ascertain for yourself how trustworthy or competent they are.
However, being an executor may also be a burden. At a time of mourning, being confronted with various administrative responsibilities and possibly a court appearance may be unduly stressful on the executor.
Choosing a trusted family friend
One may also select a trusted family friend – someone who will certainly be mourning your passing but who will nevertheless be able to remain focused during a time of sadness and help relieve the burden that would otherwise be placed on family members.
On a personal level, this person should be someone you know very well and trust completely. Additionally, this person should ideally be someone who is fond of and concerned for the well-being of the beneficiaries under your will.
If your will gives discretionary powers to the executors, such as “to provide for my minor children’s living expenses and educational needs until they reach the age of 21”, then the executor may need to be someone who knows how you would have wanted your children to be educated, and who also knows your children well enough to know what their precise educational needs are, for example.
This would of course especially be a concern when minor children are involved, and you have opted to name a guardian for such children in your will (who may or may not be the same person as the executor). In such a situation, the character of the executor/guardian and his/her relationship with your child(ren) would be particularly important.
Knowing you and the beneficiaries under your will personally is a key advantage that such non-professional executors will have over professional executors like lawyers or trust companies.
Choosing a professional executor
Particularly for larger estates, or wills where complex legal matters arise such as where a trust has been declared, where there is the possibility of children from a previous relationship challenging the validity of the will, or where assets are located overseas, it may be better to opt for a professional executor.
A professional executor often has financial expertise and may also be better placed to act as a trustee under any express trust declared under the will, or act on behalf of the estate of the deceased in any legal proceedings. Such financial expertise is especially important where, for example, one of the beneficiaries is a minor and his/her share of the estate must be held on trust and properly invested until it is handed over to him/her at 21.
A professional executor will be better placed to deal with any unexpected legal obstacles that may arise too. Importantly, from a liability perspective, as executors are fiduciaries who owe the beneficiaries under a will extensive duties, they may be asked to make up any shortfall in the estate for funds wrongly disbursed by honest mistake.
To ensure that beneficiaries are fully protected, and to avoid exposing close friends and relatives to such liability (especially where they do not have deep pockets), it is often better to select a professional executor who knows precisely how to comply with their duties under the law.
Of course, a professional trustee cannot be expected to know your personal wishes and preferences to the extent that a close relative or friend might. This can partly be remedied by asking for your will to be drafted with a greater degree of specificity or by writing a letter of wishes to help inform the executor of wider considerations and background information they are to note when exercising any discretion expected of them in, for example, apportioning assets between beneficiaries.
Non-professional executors tend to be more familiar with the exact situation of you and your beneficiaries while professional executors are better equipped to carry out their duties. One compromise is appointing joint executors, one of whom can be a professional trustee while the other can be someone known to you personally.
In such an arrangement, the professional trustee can take charge of the more complex administrative duties such as dealing with tax liability or locating assets. The non-professional trustee need not appear in court, and need only be consulted where questions of a more personal matter arise, such as whether or not you had any specific funeral preferences.
If you have decided to write a will, selecting an executor or executors will be an important issue that you should spend some time considering. This is a choice that depends on legal, personal and practical considerations, and would of course vary according to your precise personal circumstances.
If you are looking for a lawyer who can act as your executor, feel free to request a quote from one of our wills and probate lawyers.