Every adult should have a will prepared. When you prepare a last will and testament with the help of a Fort Lauderdale estate planning attorney, your attorney will discuss your options, offer sound legal advice, and help you make a number of important choices and decisions.

But when you choose someone to act as your personal representative or “executor,” it’s a choice that will be yours alone. Your executor will manage and close out your estate and ensure that your assets and property are divided and distributed according to the instructions in your will.

How should you choose someone to take care of your estate when you’re gone? What are the qualities of a good executor? If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you will also learn more about preparing a last will and testament in Florida.

What Is the Purpose of a Will?

A will is simply a legal document that expresses “your will” – that is, your instructions for what will happen to your properties and assets after your death. A last will and testament is revocable, so as long as you are alive, you may change it. Your will takes effect at the time of your death.

Other documents may also be a part of your estate plan. Everyone’s situation is unique, so the forms and documents you may require depend on your individual circumstances and needs. Your estate planning attorney can help you set up the personalized estate plan that is right for you.

If your last will and testament does not name an executor, the court will name someone to wrap up and close your estate. In most cases, the court will choose a close relative, but if no relative is immediately apparent, the court could choose a complete stranger to act as your executor.

Who Is Qualified to Be Your Executor?

When you name an executor, choosing a responsible person you trust is the most important consideration. Your executor has to be someone who is committed to your interests and someone you would trust with everything you own, because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.

As a practical matter, you should name an executor who knows you well and lives nearby – a household member, an immediate family member, or a trusted close friend. It will be more difficult for your executor to handle his or her duties from a distance or from another state.

When you name your executor, you should know that the law in Florida permits a nonresident to be appointed as an executor only if that person is related by blood, marriage, or adoption to the person making the will.

Should You Name a Co-Executor or an Alternate Executor?

Difficulties may arise if you name two people to serve together as your co-executors. Co-executors may act without one another’s consent, so if a dispute should emerge between them, your estate could pay the price in delays and additional court costs.

While most people should avoid naming co-executors, you will need to name an alternate executor. Over time, events can happen that may affect the person you’ve chosen to act as your executor. For instance, your executor may:

  1. die before or soon after your death
  2. become ill or injured in a way that makes fulfilling an executor’s duties impossible
  3. marry or take on other responsibilities that make fulfilling an executor’s duties difficult
  4. become mentally incapable of fulfilling an executor’s duties
  5. relocate across or outside the United States
  6. decide for any reason that he or she is unwilling to serve as your executor

If You Do Not Name an Alternate Executor, What Can Happen?

The qualifications for your alternate executor are exactly the same as the qualifications for your executor. You will need to select a responsible, organized, trustworthy person, someone who is good with details, and someone who is dedicated to your best interests and knows you well.

If you fail to name an alternate executor in your will, and if the person you named as your executor cannot serve in this role, the court will step in and name someone to act as your executor.

Before you name an executor and an alternate executor, have a frank and open discussion with the people you choose, and make sure that both persons fully understand and are willing to take on an executor’s responsibilities, which may include but are not necessarily limited to:

  1. preparing for the probate process by obtaining copies of the death certificate
  2. gathering and recording assets
  3. paying debts to creditors from the estate’s assets
  4. submitting tax returns and paying the estate’s taxes
  5. calculating expenses, such as appraisal fees and court costs
  6. distributing the estate’s remaining assets to the beneficiaries

Can You Name an Institution as Your Executor?

It is almost always best to choose as your executor an individual you know and trust, but you may not know anyone who is qualified, especially if your estate is extensive or complicated. You have the option of selecting a bank or a professional management firm to act as your executor.

However, most financial institutions will not handle smaller estates, and a financial institution will usually require a hefty fee – or even a variety of fees – to serve as your executor.

What Is an Executor Bond?

The courts in Florida require an executor to be bonded. The purpose of an executor bond is to ensure that an estate’s debts will be paid and that the remaining assets will be distributed to the heirs according to the will’s instructions.

Why Should You Have a Will?

Creating a will with the guidance and insights of a Fort Lauderdale estate planning lawyer ensures that your instructions will be followed with minimal legal interference at the time of your death.

You’ll be able to spell out how your assets and property are to be divided and distributed. Your will is also where you can name a guardian for your minor children – should the worst happen – and if you’re a pet owner, your will can provide instructions regarding the care of your pets.

Your age and your financial status don’t matter. If you have a family, if you own a business in south Florida, or if others rely on you, contact a Fort Lauderdale estate planning attorney – without delay – and ask that attorney to help you prepare your last will and testament.