You know that great feeling when you are given an honor? Imagine one of your close family members asking you to help them out by being their Executor? Wow, they believe in you and acknowledge that you are so smart and, most importantly, that you can be trusted to handle sophisticated money matters around the sensitive issue of death. I hate to be the naysayer for this role, but you may be walking into a quagmire and it may be too late before you realize it. My sage advice is to humbly thank them, kiss them on both cheeks…and run!
What Is An Executor?
According to FindLaw, “An executor is someone named in a will, or appointed by the court, who is given the legal responsibility to take care of a deceased person's remaining financial obligations. This means taking care of everything from disposing of property to paying bills and taxes. Most executors are immediate family members, with spouses, children and parents…” This sounds sort of benign, even like an honor. Your loved ones may not understand the complexity that comes with this request. They may not know the fact that there could be over 100 steps involved in completing the role, and frankly it’s almost impossible to do without professional help. And, they may have left out the part that, according to Bankrate “…you could be found liable if you allow assets to be tampered with before the probate process is complete or you sell off assets at fire-sale prices to raise cash.” Whoa, hold on here a minute, this is scary.
SOMEOf The Responsibilities Of An Executor
- Arrange the funeral and burial and pay for those out of the estate
- Get multiple copies of the death certificate
- Locate and get copies of the will and/or trust documents
- File the will with the probate court
Do Not Try This At Home
Okay, get the point? It’s time to call in the “Big Guns.” Those “Big Guns” are professionals such as; an estate attorney, an accountant, and probably an appraiser who all come with hefty price tags. When you hire them, they are being paid out of the estate’s money. Remember that great honor you were given? How is the family going to feel now when you have to hire outside professionals? They thought you were so smart and going to handle all of this. Perhaps there could be some pressure on you to have the hired guns rush through this to save money? Right now, I’m more concerned with saving you some of the angst around your family breathing down your neck.
Help! It’s A Job Of The Heart As Well As The Head
I’ve never served as an Executor, and researching this article gave me a headache, so I needed to speak to an expert. I found Patrick O’Brien, the co-founder and CEO of Executor.org. He created an online tool to help executors manage the responsibilities that they may face as an executor. I asked Pat, who seemed like a nice guy, why on earth would he get involved in this. He explained that, “My earliest experience related to the executor role was watching both my parents’ families get torn apart as grown adults battled over their parents’ dining room sets, furniture, and other assets in relatively modest estates. As a young child, I didn’t really understand why they let “things” destroy lifelong relationships, and frankly, still don’t today.”
Pat went on to explain that, “The complexity of settling an estate also comes at the worst possible time. You’re likely exhausted from the process of a loved one dying. You’re not typically at your best mentally as you’re grieving this major loss. There may be a situation where one child is the caregiver and this adds an unpredictable dynamic to the process. Do they somehow deserve more because of the tremendous sacrifice they make in caring for their aging parent? There’s no clear answer to this question -- and plenty of room for disagreement. Spouses of those caregivers also can have strong opinions on the subject, in spite of the fact that they have no actual legal standing.” I could feel Pat’s pain as he talked about this. That is why he decided to set up his site to help others navigate these tumultuous waters.
How Can You Make It Easier On Your Executor?
I thought: “Not Dying” was a good answer. Short of that; make sure that you have all the family conversations prior to your death, so there are no surprises and fights that could tear the family apart. There is not a good time to discuss death. So, pick it, call the adult family members together and do it.
The next thing is to choose professionals and not family members, to be your Executor. Leave a well-documented list of assets and where to find them. This should include copies of wills and trusts, documentation on insurance, investment and bank accounts, your funeral wishes (my Grandma Jewel even left us a guest list for her funeral, bless her heart), real property such as homes, artwork and antiques, business interests, and yes, access to the deceased email account, etc. This info should be tucked away in the safe deposit box ready for the executor.
My best advice is to avoid the role of Executor. You need to spend this sad time mourning your loss, not chasing documents and making financial plans that will undoubtedly ruffle family-feathers. J.D. Salinger, in Catcher In The Rye, said, “Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.” You really don’t want to become a victim to this role as Groucho Marx said, “While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.”