There are three major roles that you and your spouse need to fill within your plan: the executor, the trustee, and the guardian.

The Executor.

The executor is the person named in your will and is responsible for administering your estate in the short term (for instance, hiring an attorney and beginning probate proceedings if necessary).  The trustee is responsible for managing your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, making distributions, record keeping, and generally making decisions regarding the trust assets and beneficiaries.  Typically, the executor and the trustee are the same person since there is so much overlap between the two roles.

White young sisters and brothers in a sunny field

The Guardian.

The guardians are the individuals who will raise your children if you are unable to do so.  Your children will live with their guardians – the guardians are the ones who will be responsible for the day to day needs of your children and everything from taking care of their basic needs, to taking them to school, to signing them up for baseball practice, band practice, sleep-away camp, and everything in between.

I am almost always asked “who should I name as the guardian and should they be different than the trustee.”  Simply put, your guardian should be someone whose home is most similar to yours and where your children would be most comfortable.  This can mean anything from similar religious values, to a similar understanding of what summer vacation means, to what time your family likes to eat dinner.   Most importantly, consider who will love your children like you and where will they feel most at home.

The Trustee.

Regarding the trustee selection, there is a tendency  to say that “we named the guardian from my side of the family so we should the name the trustee from yours.”  Although there is merit to that – the checks and balances approach is worthwhile – it is important to remember that the guardian will need to work with the trustee when assessing the finances for your children.  If the guardian and the trustee don’t have a good relationship (or possibly even a contentious one), this is hugely problematic.  I tend to advocate for a practical approach to estate planning and unless there is a really good reason not to, I often advise naming the same person as the guardian and trustee (or, at the very least, making sure they have a good relationship with one another).

Hard as it is, remember, that this isn’t the time to make sure you “don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.”  You need to make the best decision you can for your children.  These are tough decisions.  But it’s better to make them now than for your family and friends to be fighting without you here to express your wishes.

The inability to come to a decision about who to name is an often cited reason for not preparing an estate plan.  But don’t let that stop you! We will work our way through all of it together.



Trust’s goal is to make estate planning accessible and easy for families. We can do most of our meetings over the phone (during nap time or after bedtime or on the weekends), we charge a flat fee, and children are always welcome to join us when we meet to finalize your documents.

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