Estate Planning: Picking the Right People

Estate planning is not a one-and-done exercise. You must review and update your plan in response to your evolving situation and changes to estate/gift tax legislation. A key part of any such review is to examine who will execute your plan and receive its benefits. Are the right people in place?


Review the primary and contingent beneficiaries on all your accounts: IRAs, 401(k)s/403(b)s, deferred compensation, pensions, annuities, life insurance, etc.…. It is common to forget to update beneficiaries following life events such as marriage, divorce, the loss of a family member, or the addition of a new family member.

Transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD) designations allow you to appoint beneficiaries on your non-retirement investment accounts or your bank accounts. Please keep in mind that TOD/POD designations are considered “will substitutes” as they take precedent over your executed legal WILL.

Guardians and Conservators for Minor Children

Appoint legal guardians and conservators for your children. The conservator is responsible for managing the assets belonging to the minor, while the guardian is responsible for managing the minor’s personal affairs. If you don’t appoint these individuals and your children are orphaned or you become incapacitated, the court system will make the decision for you. Maybe the court’s decision will align with your wishes, but maybe it won’t. You can avoid subjecting your children to a custody battle by taking the proper action in advance.

Personal Representative (PR)

Also referred to as the executor/executrix or legal representative, the PR is the individual named in your WILL who is charged with settling your probate estate. It is common to appoint a family member, but it is important they have reasonable business skills and live relatively close to you. In addition, it is ideal to appoint a few potential PRs in case the primary PR is unable or unwilling to act. If your WILL was drafted decades ago, you will likely need to update your PRs.

Trustees and Successor Trustees

Assets owned by a trust are controlled by the trustees until it becomes necessary for the successor trustees to take the reins. Trustees have the legal responsibility to protect, manage, and distribute the trust’s assets as instructed by the trust agreement. It is ideal to appoint a series of trustworthy and capable successor trustees in the event the primary successor trustee is not willing or able to serve the trust. It is common to amend the trustees as children mature into the role and as others age out.

Agents/Proxies for Health Care

Planning for incapacity is crucial and you need the right person to advocate for you when you cannot. Your health care agent has the legal right and responsibility to review your medical records, change hospitals, and even hire and fire doctors. Choosing and changing your health care agent is not to be taken lightly. Your agent should be local, responsible, and able to exercise emotional intelligence in times of crisis.

Please contact your estate planning adviser to update your legal documents; please contact Gamble Jones to designate or update your beneficiaries or trusted contact.