Choosing a legal representative
Your legal representative is the person who will be in charge of administering and overseeing your estate after you pass away.
Their role is to make sure your last wishes are respected and your estate is unwound in an orderly fashion. This means they’re in charge of a variety of tasks, from organizing funeral ceremonies, to paying taxes, and ensuring all of your beneficiaries receive their inheritance.
Needless to say, it’s an important responsibility that requires someone in which you and your family have complete trust. Equally important, it requires an individual who’s willing and able to fully assume this role when the time comes.
Naturally, what makes someone the ideal choice today may no longer be the case tomorrow. For instance, your original choice may have moved to another country. It’s therefore perfectly healthy to reevaluate your decision on a regular basis to make sure it’s still the right one for all involved parties.
Is it different from an executor?
No, an executor and a legal representative are the same thing.
Some states use the term executor, while others prefer legal representative.
What are my options?
Designate a legal representative
This is the most straight-forward option; one person, mentioned by name in your will.
Technically, you can designate additional people to be co-representatives, in which case, they would share their powers and decide together. This is rarely recommended as it complicates decision-making at a time when decisiveness and transparency are highly desirable.
You can nominate backups, in case your primary choice is not able or available when the time comes.
Who can I choose?
You’re free to choose anyone you like, except minors and anyone who’s been convicted of a felony. About 80% of Americans choose a close family member, such as a spouse or an adult child.
It would certainly be more convenient for your legal representative to live relatively close from you, as they’ll be in charge of several tasks and administrative procedures where their physical presence may be required.
If you decide to go with someone that resides in a different state, bear in mind that many states only allow family members as out-of-state legal representatives.
How does it work?
The person you named in your plan will only become your legal representative after a court has officially appointed them as such. For that, they will need to meet all the eligibility criteria detailed above.
Once appointed, they will likely have a broad legal mandate to act on your behalf and always in the interest of your estate and beneficiaries. For example, they will be able to close bank accounts, sell property, hire tax advisors, shut down social media accounts, etc.
How can I help them be successful?
It’s important to put time and effort in setting your legal representative up for success.
When they’re efficient, your estate can be settled faster, for cheaper, and without putting your family under much stress. In other words, their success is yours and your family’s.
There are many things you can do to help them, the most important of which are:
- Make sure they know where to find your estate planning documents (e.g. Posterity);
- Maintain an inventory of all your assets, debts, financial accounts and valuables;
- Inform them of any changes or updates you make to your plan as soon as possible.
No matter how detailed your plan is, there will always be nuances around your wishes and intentions that cannot be captured in writing. This is why being as transparent and open as possible with your legal representative can help them be better prepared to face all situations, and answer any questions they may get from your beneficiaries.