Seal the deal with the executor of your Last Will and Testament.
My clients often come to me to help prepare their Last Will and Testament, and I’ve guided them through the process of setting their estates and businesses in order. It’s a service I regularly provide.
Other clients have come to me when, at a time of heartbreaking loss, they find themselves in the complicated and unexpected position of being the executor of their loved one’s Last Will and Testament. Being thrust into this position with no previous knowledge of their position as executor can be devastating to a grieving loved one, and can compromise their ability to grasp the situation and best handle immediate decisions.
This scenario, unfortunately, is not an isolated occurrence. Why, then, is the appointment of the executor of a Last Will and Testament often held by the maker as a closely guarded secret?
Who is an executor?
The executor to an estate is often an average person who was a trusted friend or family member of the maker of a will. The responsibility of the executor to act with scrupulous good faith and honesty on behalf of the estate is called a fiduciary duty, a trust. This trust can be defined as a relationship that encompasses the idea of faith and confidence generally established only when the confidence given by one person is actually accepted by the other person.
How is this executor selected?
Who would you consider to be the right choice as your executor of one of the most important contracts you sign? Is it your eldest child, best friend, sibling or youngest child? If selected from a non-emotional point of view, is this person really the best choice?
Here are some important qualities to consider when choosing an individual to serve and ultimately accept your trust as the executor of your Last Will and Testament:
- Is the person trustworthy? Your executor will know more about you and your secrets than anybody. You don’t want that information shared among the family members or community. If you worry about an individual ‘spilling the beans’ if they knew they were the executor, that’s a valid signal to reconsider your choice.
- Is the person organized? Executing a Last Will and Testament involves details, deadlines and decisions. Missing or being late in protocol can draw out the process and financially drain the estate.
- Is the person financially savvy? There will be payments to be made and investment accounts to understand. There could be extenuating circumstances and recent changes in your finances that skew your original plans. Your executor could also be responsible for handling such tasks as filing your final tax returns, as well as more complicated issues such as inheritance taxes on stocks.
- Where is this person located? There can be court appearances, mail to be checked, bills to be paid, and property to be maintained, to name only a few. These details must be handled routinely, and paying someone else to do it can cause additional problems and can become a financial drain on the estate.
- Is this person a good communicator? A lack of good communication skills can override organization and financial knowledge.
- Is this person compassionate? Your family will be grieving, possibly not thinking as strategically and rationally as usual. Or, to the contrary, they may be acting as irrationally as you expected.
For various reasons, some people have chosen not to reveal the contents of their Last Will and Testament or any of their final wishes, or locations of their bank accounts or other important documents including life and burial insurance policies. They may have also chosen not to inform the person they selected as their executor.
An honor and a responsibility.
The selection of an executor is one which bestows high honor and heavy responsibility upon the recipient. It’s not a gift, nor should it be a surprise. Have your asked your chosen executor AND has that person agreed?
Go back to the definition of a fiduciary “…a relationship that encompasses the idea of faith and confidence generally established only when the confidence given by one person is actually accepted by the other person.” It’s a trust, a deal, a contract established to last not just throughout your lifetime, but beyond. Shake hands on it.
An executor who is not willing and prepared by virtue of an agreement can be placed in a situation that could prove to be the perfect storm for disagreements which could lead to family dispute and legal warfare.
Do you have questions or need more information regarding:
- The selection of your executor
- Have you discussed your decision with your prospective executor?
- Do you know if or how your executor is paid?
- Has your executor moved out of state?
- Are you willing to keep your executor up-to-date on major financial and life choice issues?
- Have you considered other options?
- Your role as executor
- Can or do you want to handle sibling and family rivalry?
- Have you moved out of state
- Can you afford a bond? Handling long-distance duties?
- Did you choose to be the executor of the estate?
- What happens if you decline your position as executor?
- Are you concerned about your parent’s refusal to discuss final wishes?
- Do you want to prepare yourself?
The bottom line:
If you’re an executor, I can help you with these questions.
If you’re planning final instructions for your estate, I can help you select other options to avoid these issues and avoid probate.
I’m your CPA, and this is one of the things I do for you. Contact us, we can talk about this.