Listener, Raymond, asks: “What happens to your clients if you die? By you, I mean Anthony S. Park. Who is your backup?” He posted this question on a professional executor video, so we’ll answer in the context of me being a professional executor as opposed to being an attorney.
Thanks for your question, Raymond.
Can an executor transfer his duties?
If you name me as your professional executor, can I delegate my duties to someone else? No, the roles of a fiduciary (trustee, executor, etc.) are non-delegable. So, if I die, I can’t just say that my spouse, or paralegal, or law partner can take over.
Why not? Because it’s not my choice as to who should be your executor – you chose me for a reason. It’s not up to me to grab one of my colleagues to step in; there’s more to it than that. It should be your choice.
By the way, this is not a limitation to just professional executors; this applies to any executor. The same principals apply if you name a spouse, nephew, or friend – they can’t just pass it along to someone else.
Can you have a backup executor?
Yes, you can and should name a successor in your will or trust. In your will, the appointment of a successor executor will be in the same or following paragraph where you nominate me as executor. For example, “I appoint Anthony S. Park as my executor, but if he cannot fulfill his duties, then I name __________ as my successor executor.”
I recommend naming at least one successor executor, but no more than three. You need at least one back-up, but any more than three just feels like overplanning. I’ve had clients come in with a depth chart of up to seven successors. It’s very unlikely that you’d get to the point where you need the seventh executor. That would be like a plane-crash involving all of the other executors! Naming that many people will probably cause more stress than you realize. Plus, if you’ve chosen your executors wisely, you won’t need such a long list. It is important to review your will every four years to make sure you’ve chosen your executors are still fit to act, if needed.
What happens when a lawyer dies?
I am both a licensed attorney and a professional executor. Like most good lawyers, I have backup counsel, as recommended by ethics rules and as required by my insurance carrier.
I have a “notify in case of death” colleague who will take over my files in case I die. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she will be your attorney, but at least they can notify you that I passed. You could then keep the file with my colleague or retain new counsel.
This is the same process for me as a professional executor. If something happens to me, you will be notified. As you may know, I have annual check-in phone calls with clients who’ve named me as their executor. We call to get updates from you, but also partly so you know that I’m still here! It’s a two-way street. If you haven’t heard from me in a year or two, you may need to make sure I’m still around!
Again, we appreciate Raymond’s question, and we encourage others to submit their questions, as well.
If you want to learn more about professional executors, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon.