It wasn’t too long ago in the grand scheme of human events that it was common for the first son of a noble family to inherit everything when his parents passed away. Younger sons would be expected to marry well, join the military, or take religious orders. And daughters would inherit nothing. If no sons existed or survived, a brother or nephew would inherit, a la Downton Abbey. That was just the way things were, and there was nothing to be done about it.
This system of primogeniture has thankfully fallen by the wayside, but echoes of it remain. When crafting an estate plan, many people feel obligated to list their eldest child or eldest sibling as their estate administrator and guardian. This is a terrible idea. Nobody should feel obligated to appoint a particular person as their estate administrator or guardian, and nobody should feel obligated to serve in those positions.
Finding the Right Estate Administrator
The best person to appoint as your estate administrator is someone who is up to the task. Unfortunately, it is not an easy job. Overseeing funeral arrangements, making financial decisions, probating the estate, and cleaning out a loved one’s home are all Herculean tasks. In fact, many people are starting to divide up these tasks because asking one person to take them all on is a bit much.
When looking for a person or people to serve as an estate administrator, look for someone you can trust. You must trust that the person or people you choose will carry out your wishes, even without you there.
Also, consider the load you are asking your friend or family member to bear. Try not to overwhelm anyone, emotionally or otherwise.
Finally, make sure the person or people you name are willing to serve. Nobody should be surprised to be named as an estate administrator. It is on you to have a discussion with the person or people you want to serve to make sure they are on board with your plan.
Picking a Guardian
If a time comes when you can no longer make sound decisions or care for yourself, it is important to have someone who can step up and serve as a guardian.
There are two types of guardianship: guardianship of the person, and guardianship of the property. The guardian of the person is responsible for making healthcare and quality of life decisions while the guardian of the property handles the finances. Separate people are often appointed to these roles because they encompass such different skill sets.
Once again, it is critical that you have a conversation with the person or people you are asking to serve as your guardian in the future. They must be willing and able to fulfill their roles.
Oldest Is Not Automatically Best
Don’t ever feel obligated to appoint a certain person to serve as an estate administrator or guardian. You aren’t a royal living in the Middle Ages, so you should act like one.