This is the second part of a two-part series on executors. Read part one.
When an individual creates a will, they typically appoint an executor or personal representative. If they choose you as their executor, it is important to speak with them, so you are prepared to carry out their wishes efficiently. Taking initiative and having conversations now can save time and unnecessary stress in the future.
Even if you don’t anticipate ever serving as an executor, you may find this article helpful when preparing your own executor.
1. Where are the estate planning documents?
Ask if the individual can supply a binder or other assemblage of copies of their documents, or a clear description of where to find them when the time comes. Many people keep these things in the family safe. Others may use a safe deposit box. Important documents may include wills, trust documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, military discharges, etc.
Knowing where to find these documents is essential. An executor needs to be able to find and access the documents easily. For example:
- Safe: The executor should know the combination.
- Safe deposit box: Who owns the box?
- If the box is solely in the testator’s name, family members will need to go to court to get the box open.
- If the box is in the name of a revocable living trust, the successor trustee can access the box without going to court.
It may be wise to keep copies of these important documents with an estate planning attorney.
2. What are the assets and liabilities?
Accounting for assets and liabilities is an executor’s primary responsibility. If the information about assets and liabilities and their location is current and accessible, it’ll make everyone’s life easier. Asking the testator (maker of the will) to maintain an updated list along with their estate planning documents can be helpful in guiding you as an executor.
Common examples of assets and liabilities include:
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Real estate deeds
- Vehicle titles
- Insurance policies
- Partnership documents
- Pension documents
- Sentimental assets
- Liabilities (debt information can often be obtained by running credit reports)
- Credit cards
- Auto loans
- Mortgage and home equity lines of credit
- Student loans
3. What and where are the digital assets?
Digital assets may not immediately come to mind when you think about estate planning! Nevertheless, most people have an online presence. If the testator has not updated their estate plan recently, they may have neglected to include their digital assets.
Common examples of digital assets include:
- Email accounts
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
- PayPal and Venmo accounts
- Rewards programs (credit cards, hotels, airlines, etc.)
It can be helpful to keep a complete list of accounts, usernames, and passwords in a safe place. Online password storage services can assist with maintaining this information securely and in one location.
4. Who are the testator’s trusted professionals?
These professionals can assist you with the estate settlement process. You might ask your loved one to provide you with contact information for their trusted professionals including their estate planning attorney, financial advisor, tax accountant, insurance broker, etc.
5. What are your loved one’s wishes for their memorial?
- Do they already own a burial plot? Where?
- Would they prefer cremation?
- What kind of service would they like? Where?
- Would they like donations sent to charity in lieu of flowers? What charity?
The individual may have included these preferences in their will, but it’s helpful to have their wishes spelled out in a separate document, as well. In general, the more specific they can be, the better. Family members and loved ones may have different recollections of someone’s wishes. Having a clearly documented plan can help to ease any tensions that may arise.
6. Has the testator informed family and friends of their wishes?
It’s important for them to communicate their wishes to all the important people in their lives. Friction during a time of grief can lead to irreparable relationship damage. If everyone is on the same page about a testator’s wishes, and no one is surprised, there’s less chance of conflict. You might consider encouraging your loved one to hold a family meeting or have conversations that clearly communicate their wishes to all their loved ones.
Losing a loved one is never easy. Having a clear understanding of their wishes, relationships, and situation can help make a difficult time easier.