Think only the uber-wealthy need estate and trust experts? Not necessarily …

Oh, it’s a common misconception. I hear it from clients, people I know and even strangers all the time. “I don’t have that kind of wealth. I’ve made my brother or my best friend of 40 years or my accountant my Executor. I know them, I trust them, they’re perfect. It’s fine.”

And if your estate is straight forward and requires little more than distributing funds to your beneficiaries, you could be right. But if you’re worth at least $1 million, and your

estate – or even your will — is at all complicated, my recommendation is that, at the very least, you should give the idea of hiring an estate and trust expert careful consideration.

What do I mean by “complicated?”

Well, if you’re invested in real estate, for example — commercial or rental properties — this would require expertise your appointed Executor might not have. Same goes if you own a business. Ditto if one or more of your beneficiaries has special needs. Or you’ve been married more than once and have family from several relationships.

Then there’s also the matter of “time.”

The administering of an estate usually takes from 18 to 24 months — longer when trust administration is involved and your Executor is also named as Trustee. Estate and trust experts are organized to do this work, it’s their business. But how many individuals can take such a significant amount of time away from managing their own affairs, especially if they live out of town, which is not uncommon?

Recently I attended a presentation given by two CIBC Trust and Estate Advisors and I found it to be both interesting and valuable. It was also extremely enlightening; and, as I listened to them, I realized that most of us are unaware of the extent of what’s involved and the level of expertise that’s required for Executors.

Obviously the duo from CIBC went into a lot more detail than I have about the responsibilities that come with being a Trustee, the knowledge, skills and experience needed and when it makes sense to hire professionals. But this document is a quick read and does a great job of explaining what’s entailed, at a high level. And I plan to write more on this topic as well.

We all tend to turn first to those we’ve known the longest and, therefore, instinctively trust to carry out our wishes and make sure our loved ones are well served. And sometimes it’s another common misconception that causes us to choose an Executor from within our own circle:

Because we think it’s less expensive.

Again my response is, “not necessarily.” Especially if you factor in the ramifications should something go wrong. If, for example, your will is contested, or if it turns out that your Executor is ill-equipped to either handle certain aspects of your estate or any unforeseen situations that might arise.

Which is why I believe so strongly that before making such a critical decision it’s important to understand and appreciate all the challenges your Executor might face; and to remember that you’ll be gone and won’t be around to caution, to guide, to help.

My advice is to talk to an expert before deciding on an Executor if, for no other reason, your own peace of mind.

Alan Friedman is an Investment Advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy in Toronto. The views of Alan Friedman do not necessarily reflect those of CIBC World Markets Inc. CIBC Wood Gundy is a division of CIBC World Markets Inc. a subsidiary of CIBC and a Member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. If you are currently a CIBC Wood Gundy client, please contact your Investment Advisor.

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