In life, there are jobs we seek out and others that are given to us. Being named an Executor of an estate is one of the most important jobs one can be asked to hold by another person. It means there is someone who trusts you fully and believes that you will manage their final wishes properly and without conflict.
That’s not to say the job is easy. Again, you were likely appointed to the role of Executor because your loved one felt you could handle any stress or difficult responsibilities that come with the job.
The good news, however, is that there are ways to prepare in advance so that your life as an Executor is easier when the time comes. Here are some suggestions a will, trust and estates lawyer would have you consider:
- Have the hard conversations now. Meet with the person who is naming you as an executor of their estate and ask them to describe exactly how they wish their estate to be administered. Take notes and make sure you get all the details. Knowing the “why” behind the decisions in the will can help you navigate “gray area” choices if they arise.
- Be organized. The job of Executor consists of lots of paperwork, bureaucracy, and time maintaining the estate as it goes through the probate process. Set up a filing system, spreadsheets, and bins, so the Executor job does not infringe on your everyday life.
- Get a lawyer. No matter the size of the estate, it is prudent for all involved parties to have a lawyer. At the minimum, have a consultation with an attorney to make sure there is not something you have overlooked. People often think they can do everything themselves only to be caught at the end by taxes or administrative issues.
- Move quickly once the person passes away. Grief makes people act in unexpected ways, so it is imperative that after the person dies, you move quickly to locate the original final will and file the necessary paperwork with the courts to be recognized as the Executor. At this time, order up to 8-10 copies of the death certificate to save yourself time later. Another uncomfortable thing you will need to do is to secure the assets. All too often, grieving loved ones will go to the home and begin to take items they believe they should have. You will have to be the one who stops this.
- Be upfront with the heirs of the estate. Make sure they all get a clear understanding of how estate administration works. The process is a slow one, which frequently frustrates family members who are grieving. By giving them an explanation or better yet, having a lawyer do it, they will hopefully have patience with you and avoid conflicts.
- Know there will be conflicts. Grieving is an individual process, and you will take the brunt of most of that emotion. If money is involved in the administration, the speed at which money is inherited can be infuriating. Heirs becoming angry with you is even more of a probability if any perceived omissions or secret bombshells are in the will. Hopefully, if that is the case, you knew ahead of time and were prepared.
- Heirloom distribution needs to be deliberate. Once the significant assets and personal items are named in the will, the hard part starts. Deciding who receives the personal items in the home can cause the most conflicts. There is no explanation for the small household items that might have importance to many family members. A sweatshirt, a picture frame, or a dish can hold deep memories that you might be unaware of. Creating an equitable system for if multiple people want an item will ensure this process is done deliberately.
- Ask the person to make it easier for you. Administering an estate is never an easy process. One of the ways to make it easier is to use a revocable living trust rather than a will. Wills require you as the executor to work through and with the probate court to administer the estate. However, the time consuming and expensive process of probate can be avoided by utilizing a revocable living trust rather than a will as the estate planning tool of choice. Over two decades of practice I have had multiple clients that acted as both an executor of an estate under a will as well as a successor trustee of a trust, and every one of them has commented on how much easier and cheaper the trust was to administer.
These are only a few ways you can help yourself if you have been named an Executor. If you find yourself struggling with your duties and or you have questions and need some advice, we are here to help. Contact us at 888-719-5589 to schedule an appointment with one of our will, trust and estate planning lawyers.