An executor deals with the instructions in your will when you die and handles the finances and any tax liabilities that arise. It can become complicated if you have numerous assets and property, so it is sensible to appoint someone who is fairly astute, although they can always seek help from a professional if necessary.
Who can be an executor?
Anyone who is over 18 years old can be an executor of a will, and it is fine for them to be an executor and a beneficiary of your will. You can appoint up to four executors to act, however they must make decisions jointly so it might be simpler to appoint fewer. Ideally, though, you want more than one, in case that person is incapable of acting when the time comes. You could alternatively appoint professional executors such as your solicitor or accountant, but do bear in mind that they will charge for their time spent.
Who should I choose as executor of my will?
Most married couples tend to choose their spouse as their executor, which makes a lot of sense since you should trust your executor implicitly. However there could be a scenario in which both of you are in an accident together, so you would need a second executor to step in.
Some people may appoint their children, either to act as replacements for their spouse or to act jointly with their spouse so that the family can make decisions together. If you feel that your children are currently not mature enough to act as executors you should not appoint them. It is risky to appoint your children on the basis that it is unlikely anything will happen to you until later when they will be old enough to act: an eligible executor (right now) should always be appointed. That said, in a scenario where the executors are young or inexperienced they can always consult a legal advisor about the probate procedure. Having some professional help may also ease the emotional burden for them.
If your estate is quite sizeable you may wish to appoint a professional executor such as a lawyer or accountant who will be accustomed to this kind of work. They will be able to handle the probate paperwork and tax matters. Again, it will the ease the burden from family members, but you may want to check their charging methods are reasonable before formally appointing them.
How do I appoint them?
The only thing that you need to do is state that you would like to appoint them as your executor and put their full name and current address in your will. If you appoint more than one, you should state that you would like them to act jointly. As mentioned before, you can also make them a beneficiary in your will but they must not be a witness to you signing your will as this may invalidate their gift.
Should I tell them?
In most situations it is advisable to tell your executors that you have appointed them and let them know where the original wills are stored. There is nothing wrong with giving them a photocopy of your will for their own reference. It is also sensible to keep a note of their new addresses should any of your executors move so that they can be located when needed.