“Last Will and Testament of…” Words family members never want to hear can become even more traumatizing during a time of heartbreaking loss when informed they are the executor of their loved one’s Last Will and Testament. Being thrust into the complicated and unexpected position of executor of an estate can be overwhelming.
Preparing your Last Will and Testament
Many of my clients have come to me for help as they prepare or update their wills to align with their estate and financial planning, as well as the handling of ongoing business alliances and ownership. I guide them through the process of setting their estate and businesses in order and often work with their legal team. It’s a service I regularly provide.
What or who is an executor?
An executor is usually a person the maker considers to be a trusted and capable friend or family member. The executor’s responsibility is to act with scrupulous good faith and honesty on behalf of the estate. This good faith and honesty is 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.
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 you asked your chosen executor AND has that person agreed?
Choosing the executor of your Last Will and Testament.
How do you go about selecting the right person (or people if you to choose to have co-executors) to administer one of the most important contracts you may ever prepare? Is it your eldest child, best friend, sibling or your youngest child? From a non-emotional point of view, who really is the best choice?
Here are some important qualities to consider when making your choice:
- 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 the 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 your Last Will and Testament involves details, deadlines and often immediate decisions. Missing or being late in acting or following protocol can draw out the process and financially drain the estate.
- Is the person financially savvy? Payments will need to made, accounts to understand. Circumstances could change your original plans. Taxes will have to be filed that could involve complicated legal and financial issues. Is your executor a DIY kind of person, or one who respects professional legal, financial and accounting counsel in their own activities? Do they live and handle their financial life in a manner which you want your Last Will and Testament handled?
- What is the health of this person? Consider both physical and emotional health of your choice. Also consider whether personal relationships within their circle are healthy.
- Where is this person located? Daily mail, ongoing payment of bills, regular property maintenance, to name just a few tasks, must be handled without interruption. The executor paying someone else to do all of these routine things can cause additional problems and become a financial drain on the estate.
- Is this person a good communicator? A lack of good communication skills can override organizational skills 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 expect.
The contract of your life. Shake hands on it.
Your Last Will and Testament is the contract you legally prepare to wrap up your affairs and possibly to continue your legacy. Why, then, is the name of the executor of a Last Will and Testament often held by the maker as a closely guarded secret? For various reasons, some people choose not to reveal the contents of their Last Will and Testament or any of their final wishes, or other important documents including financial accounts, or even the existence of life and burial insurance policies.
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.
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 contract established through trust to last not just throughout your lifetime, but beyond. Shake hands on it.
Last Will and Testament checklist:
The selection of your executor:
- Have you discussed this 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 an executor:
- Can you and do you want to handle possible 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 a loved one’s refusal to discuss their final wishes?
- Do you want to prepare yourself?
The bottom line.
If you’re the executor of an estate, I can help you with these questions. If you’re planning final instructions for your own estate, I can help you select other options to avoid these issues and avoid probate.
Our goal is to become part of your overall life and business goal planning team so that you’ll be able to establish your own goals and know that you have a trusted professional on your team. We establish and maintain a personal and business relationship with our clients. Your LIFE is your business and your BUSINESS is your life. We’re here for YOU.
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