Tips for Executors & Testators

Kathy SchwartzUncategorized

Helpful Ways to Ease Your Executor’s Burden

Comparatively speaking, we in North America don’t deal with the concept of death all that well. We don’t like to think about it, much less talk about it with those we are closest to. So, when will-makers have the opportunity to set out a roadmap for their Executors to follow, unfortunately they often don’t take it. This blog entry is a list of things you can do to make life easier for your Executor and your family after you pass away. Some are easier than others depending on dynamics and varying levels communication amongst family members. But if you make use of even one of these suggestions, your Executor and your family will be better off for it.

  1. Prepare your documents, and prepare them properly. Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive. Set a reminder in five years to open them back up and make sure they still reflect your wishes. Open them every time there is a major change in your life, for better or for worse.

  2. Have a family meeting after the documents are prepared. It doesn’t have to be long, and you don’t have to provide a full rundown of the Will’s contents if you don’t want to. Just that you’ve prepared documents, where they are, and who you have appointed is helpful for your family to know.

  3. Confirm the location of your documents with your Executor/Attorney under POA. Look at them together. Are they signed versions? Are they original versions? If not, where are the originals? Are the documents accessible to your appointed Attorney if you are incompetent? Or the Will, if you have passed away? If you are storing them in a bank, make sure you are asking the appropriate questions about how they can be accessed.

  4. Prepare the ‘Estate Administration Roadmap’. Name your accountant, financial planner, insurance broker, lawyer, funeral home, and anyone else your Executor may need to speak to after you pass away. Lay out their information. Lay out any information related to where your money is held. Addresses of obscure beneficiaries. Loans you have made to people. Gifts you have made to people, and whether you consider them to be an advance on inheritance. And, for heaven’s sake, your computer and account passwords (but don’t share by email!).

  5. Make decisions about your personal belongings. Any decision you make before you die is taken out of the collective hands of your children, or anyone else who could potentially fight over your belongings. Don’t just say “well, they get along so they’ll figure it out”. If you want them to continue getting along, best to deal with your more valuable, sentimental, or sought-after items now, in a written list that you can tie into your Will. This is not to suggest that all families fight – far from it. However, parents don’t always have a perfect understanding of how their children interact when the parents aren’t around. And, let’s not forget how our new spouses or children’s spouses can change the dynamic between family!

  6. GET RID OF YOUR STUFF! This is the opposite of number 5 above. If we’re being well and truly honest with ourselves, our kids don’t want a majority of our stuff. It might be not a fight about “who gets what”, it could more realistically be a fight about “whose gonna deal with all this junk?” Start getting into the habit of making donations, especially if there are things you don’t use and your children don’t want. If a belonging is important to you, consider whether you would enjoy seeing someone else treasure it while you’re alive. Speak to your children about what they want and don’t want in advance if that makes things easier.

  7. Have another family meeting. This time the discussion is not about your documents. Speak with your family about illness, hospitals, and what your wishes may be ‘when the time comes’. Make arrangements for funeral, cremation, burial. Make as many decisions as you can about these things. It’s not necessarily about what you decide – it’s about having made the decision so your family doesn’t have to. You may underestimate how difficult or weighty some decisions may be for your children, especially when they only want to respect your wishes. That can be very difficult to do if they don’t know what they were.

  8. Communicate clearly and reduce the potential for noise, misunderstanding and misinterpretation between family members. Sometimes things get lost in translation. Don’t rely on individual family members to carry messages to others, if it’s not necessary to do so. A family member may unintentionally misconstrue your words and cause confusion or upset. Instead, strive to communicate with everyone at the same time using letters, emails, phone calls, even (sigh) Zoom. The point is that everyone receives the same information, and at the same time. This limits the potential for harmful misunderstanding.

  9.  Beware of Inequalities. If you don’t want to make an even distribution from your Estate, that’s fine. There are many perfectly legitimate and moral reasons to make an uneven distribution. However, you must be aware of the fact that a jilted beneficiary can completely derail your Estate administration process with relatively minimal action. Speak to your lawyer about your plans – he or she will have good suggestions for how you can prevent legal drama. 

Many points in this list naively assume that a certain level of closeness exists between family members. That won’t always be the case. Pick and choose what you need to from this list, and do your best to carry them out. Your Executor will thank you.

If you have concerns related to your estate plan and would like to know what preventative measures you can take to protect your Estate from challenge, please reach out to us here at Tradition Law LLP.

Thanks for reading.

Andrew Torbiak, J.D.