Jan 06, 2022

Six Important Questions If You Are Asked to Be an Executor

We routinely advise our clients to regularly review and update their Last Will and Testament and other estate planning documents. One  important decision they need to make is who will be the personal representative or executor in their will. This is a critical position, because your executor will pay your final debts, expenses, and taxes before distributing the remaining assets in your estate to beneficiaries, and will open a probate proceeding in your local county court if that becomes necessary.” Typically, you name someone you trust in that role and hope they don’t have to serve for many years.

However, what if you are the one being asked to serve as the personal representative or executor? What questions should you ask to be prepared and to make your job as efficient as possible?

          1. Am I the first in line, or the contingent?

For married couples, their spouse is usually named as the executor unless there are extenuating circumstances. It is important to know if someone else is likely to fill this role, or if you are first in line. If you are likely to serve, you would be wise to gather information and documents as soon as possible. If you are listed as the contingent, or second in line, try to determine if the primary executor is likely o serve given a normal life expectancy of the testator.

          1. Where are the will and other important documents?

Perhaps the most important thing for you to know is the location of all the documents you will need to settle the estate. These include but are not limited to:

    • The original of the Last Will and Testament
    • Deeds to any property
    • Titles to property such as automobiles
    • Partnership documents
    • Insurance policies and annuity contracts
    • Bank and brokerage statements, including retirement accounts
    • Burial contracts

You will immediately need access to these documents to begin the process of settling the estate.  Oftentimes, an executor spends many frustrating weeks merely trying to find these documents and the assets that make up the estate. Do that work now with the testator and save yourself a lot of time later.

          1. Does the Will contain Testamentary Trusts? If so, who is the trustee?

If you have been asked to be the executor, ask if you are also serving as the trustee of a Testamentary Trust. The job of executor can be frustrating at times but typically only lasts for a few months. On the other hand, you could be a trustee for years depending on the terms of the trust and at what ages the trust assets are paid out to the beneficiaries. In addition, the tasks associated with the executor are more straightforward: pay off debts and distribute the assets according to the Will. However, the job of trustee can be much more complicated, especially when you have to tell a beneficiary “No.”

          1. Does the testator want to distribute personal possessions to specific beneficiaries?

Typical wills bequeath personal effects (including jewelry, clothing, books, china, etc.) to a beneficiary or beneficiaries. Some wills include a statement such as: “Provided further, I may leave a letter or other writing with this will in which I set forth a suggested disposition of my personal effects. I request but do not direct my Executor to follow my wishes as set forth in such writing.” That means the testator has written a separate list of personal assets to be distributed to specific individuals, usually personal items with little monetary value but significant sentimental value. You would be wise to review the list with the testator in advance so that there are no misunderstandings among the beneficiaries.

          1. Is there a document of online accounts?

In the age of social and other digital media, the testator should provide you a document listing his or her online presence (Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, etc.). This document would allow you to deactivate the accounts on behalf of the testator. Even though most of these sites would accept a death certificate, this document would make your job much easier. Connected to the idea of digital media is the growing interest in cryptocurrency; make sure you have access to all relevant passwords for these accounts or “wallets” so you can distribute these assets as well. Here is another article from our website that addresses this topic in more detail.

          1. Who are the testator’s other relevant professionals?

Like the list of documents above, you need to have a current list of the other professionals working with the testator. This includes but is not limited to:

    • Attorney who prepared the will and other documents. Most likely you would consider using the same attorney to help you settle the estate, but you are not required to do so.
    • CPA or tax preparer. You may have to file a tax return for the estate.
    • Financial Advisor
    • Any other advisors associated with other entities such as partnerships or private investments.
    • Other stockholders of any private corporations owned by the testator.

Being asked to serve as executor is a sign of the respect and trust the testator has for you. Hopefully, you see it as an act of service or love on your part rather than a duty. By asking these questions, you will be as prepared as possible to carry out this task. As always, the advisors at Baird Retirement Management have access to estate planning resources to help you along the way.


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