What is an attorney, an executor, a trustee?

Director Lisa Lodge, a senior private client solicitor with more than 20 years’ experience, talks us through some important legal responsibilities that people may be asked to take on.

Attorney. Executor. Trustee…?

What is an attorney, an executor, a trustee?  Aren’t they all just the same thing?

Well no, and it’s worth understanding the difference because it matters!

Three different titles which can often cause confusion when clients ask to appoint, or are asked to undertake, one or another of these roles. I thought it may help to discuss each of the above terms, explain when they’re used, what the roles the holder undertakes, and the issues to be considered by clients when appointing the positions.

The first is your attorney, a position appointed via a document called Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) for matters of either Property & Finance or Health & Welfare, or indeed both.

You can have a different attorney for either of your LPAs, or you can have the same person if you prefer. They would come into play if you were to lose capacity either through illness or accident, and decisions or actions need undertaking on your behalf such as paying bills or agreeing to treatment.

I often think it’s better to have perhaps a close family member to be your attorney for Health & Welfare as they could be making decisions about the future nursing home care you receive, or medical treatment, so the closer they are the more likely they will know your personal wishes.

The attorney for Property & Finance is also often a family member, grown up children usually, but in some cases clients prefer to appoint a professional attorney such as their accountant – who knows their finances best and has to abide by strict codes of conduct in their dealings with your estate – or, similarly, a solicitor.
This can be due to a desire for professional guidance, or to remove the burden from family members, or indeed to prevent potential conflict where there are several interested parties with differences of opinion.

Turning to your executor, this is the person you appoint to undertake the practicalities of dealing with your Will, carrying out your written directions after your death. Their job will include administering your estate, paying your outgoings and liabilities, and distributing your estate to whomsoever you have directed. Again this could be a family member or a solicitor, an option many people choose simply because it’s a role we are very familiar with, whereas a friend or family member would be new to the role and may feel uncomfortable with the responsibility. It is also useful to consider whether there is likely to be any controversy with the Will, which could make things difficult for the executor on a personal level.

The execution of a Will could include the requirement for a Trustee if some part of your estate cannot be distributed immediately, for example if you leave a legacy to your grandchildren but determine they must wait until they are older before receiving it. The Trustee will look after the money, often via investment or simply in a savings account, until they come of age. They don’t necessarily need to have any financial experience, and can seek advice from a financial advisor and solicitor if they choose, but they should be someone considered utterly trustworthy considering the task they are asked to carry out.

If you need to appoint someone to look after your affairs when you are no longer able, it is likely they will be your attorney, executor or trustee. For all the advice you need on who to appoint, how to approach them to ask for their help, and what information they need about what’s expected of them, come and speak to us at Vincents Solicitors. Contact our experienced, professional and supportive private client team on 01772 555 176.