Most estate plans begin with young children and concerned parents. You name someone your age to serve as executor under the will. The executor ages as fast as you do, and in time needs to be replaced.
How old should a child be before you name them executor?
Minors cannot serve. Children become legal adults upon turning 18, getting married, or the order of a court emancipating them. As a rule of thumb, no one under 18 may serve as an executor.
The executor’s age is tested at the time of the probate application, not the date of the will. You can name a minor child now as your executor. This does not make sense for the primary executor, the one that would serve if you died immediately. However, if you’ve also named one or two alternates, it’s not illegal to name a minor as a third or fourth alternate, and might save the cost of a second will later.
Felons are disqualified. Indictment is okay, conviction is not. If your will requires your executor to be bonded, arrests even without conviction may thwart your child’s ability to serve.
Most planners resist naming a child younger than 25 as executor. At that age, everyone is engrossed in school or their first job, neither of which are accommodating when asked for two weeks off to clean out the house.
After 25, some say 30, the right person is as mature as they need to be. Whether your child is the right person depends on the job you leave them. At a minimum, every executor is expected to collect your assets, pay your bills, distribute the remainder, file your final tax return, and account to the beneficiaries. Engineers do better than musicians, but neither can start or finish without a lawyer and CPA to help. Maturity matters more than skills.
Special circumstances demand more. Does your child owe you money? They will have to settle up. Are other beneficiaries minors or disabled? Trust management may last a lifetime. Do your children get along? Family discord can legally disqualify a proposed executor. Is a family business involved? Key employees may not take orders from the youngest one.
Parents tend to name the oldest child as executor, then the rest in birth order, as alternates. You may rearrange or omit anyone you wish.
If you die without updating your will, and all the named executors predeceased you, your beneficiaries can agree on a replacement.
Some children never grow up. If yours won’t, consider replacing them with a trust company. You can still leave all to children or grandchildren, but with the adult supervision they need.