What You Should Do Now to Make Your Executor’s Job Easier

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Estate Planning & Tax Controversy
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Sorry to begin with such a sobering thought, but we are all going to die.  Most frequently, the Executor of your Estate is someone with whom you had a close relationship:  either a spouse, child or close friend.  They are dealing with your loss.  You have asked them to serve as Executor, a role for which most persons have had no experience.  What can you do now to make their job easier?

First, make certain that the person you name to serve as Executor knows you are making this request of them.  Verify they are willing to serve in that capacity.  Tell them where they can find the original of your Will and where they can find a list of instructions which you will make available for their use.  That list of instructions should identify accounts, insurance policies, whether you have a safe deposit box and, if so, in what institution and the passwords for all of your digital accounts.

It is helpful to you to create a document reflecting your current financial information.  It really simplifies the job of Executor if such a document is available with this information.  Remember, you don’t need to tell your Executor what you have by way of assets at this time.  They simply need to know how they can readily determine the answer to that question when called upon to fulfill their responsibilities.

Many families end up squabbling over items of personal property.  Often, it makes little difference whether the items have significant monetary value.  I want that ring, Mom promised me the grandfather clock, Dad promised me his baseball autographed by some major league star.  Avoid, or at least minimize, this problem by creating a List.  On the List, you can identify individual items of personal property and the person who is to receive them.  Make sure there is only one such List in existence at any moment in time.  You must sign the List and remember to date it as only the most recent List will be effective.

Have you named a person to serve as your funeral representative in your Will?  In the absence of doing so, most states have a statute which establishes the priority ranking for the person to carry out your wishes.  That sounds fine, but if your spouse has passed and you have children, each child has equal right to make those choices.  If they don’t agree, how do they iron out any disagreement?  Name one person and make certain that individual knows your wishes and will be willing to carry them out on your behalf.

When did you last update your Will?  Did you list individuals who are no longer living and for whom you have named no successor?  If you named a charity, is that charitable institution clearly identified?  Does it exist?  For example, there have been several situations in which a decedent named a Catholic school or other organization to which they had a strong attachment.  However, by the time they passed away, that institution was no longer in existence.  In such a case, what is the Executor required to do?  Perhaps it is time to review your Will and update it to address this potential problem.

Finally, and speaking from experience, if you have lived in your home for a long time you probably have accumulated many “treasures”.  It is the responsibility of the Executor to review those items, sell the items unless specifically given to someone through your List, decide what to discard and make the arrangements to do so.  If you are like me, maybe it’s time to clean out the attic, the basement and other cubbies in which you have stored your children’s grade school papers or “stuff” you got from your parents when they died.

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