Serving as the executor of an estate, while a great honor, comes with significant responsibilities. In order to best fulfill the role to honor the testator’s legacy, you should take certain steps to prepare yourself for such a monumental undertaking. Considering these steps while the testator is living can make the estate administration process go much more smoothly after their passing. Here’s how to prepare your self as an executor:
1. Locate and Ensure Access to All Essential Documents
In order for an estate plan to be executed accurately, smoothly, and in a timely manner, you must know where to find all the essential documents. The executor also needs to ensure they have access to these documents. These include a will, any trust documents, account information, military records, insurance policies, deeds, pensions, Social Security documents, credit card information, partnership agreements, and the like. These documents should be stored safely and securely, like in a safe, safe deposit box, or at a lawyer’s office. It is best practice to keep multiple copies of these documents in various secure locations. However, consider that a safe deposit box at a bank in only the testator’s name may not be easy to access after their passing if the executor hasn’t been given special permissions to access it.
2. Know the Testator’s Wishes
The executor has the great honor and duty of upholding the testator’s wishes, preferences, and legacy when they are no longer able to do so themself. While much of their wishes would be listed in a comprehensive estate plan, it’s important to have discussions about how the executor can best represent the testator’s legacy to ensure that every wish is honored. This is also a good time to discuss charitable contributions and wishes if one of the beneficiaries were to predecease the testator.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Assets and Beneficiaries
Similarly, it’s important to know what assets are to be administered as part of the estate and who the testator wants them to go to. While those details should be provided for in the estate plan, it’s smart to plan ahead and familiarize yourself with every asset in the estate and who the testator intends for them to go to. Moreover, assets can change between the time the estate plan was created and when a testator dies. While estate plans should be updated regularly, familiarizing yourself with any changes in assets can help ensure a smooth estate administration. It’s also important to note that assets can include outstanding debts, and many debts don’t just disappear at the time the testator passes away. They may need to be paid out of the estate plan or they may be passed on to a beneficiary.
Not every asset is subject to the probate process, meaning it isn’t subject to the testator’s will. Certain assets, such as retirement accounts, jointly-owned property, bank accounts, life insurance, and life estate properties can’t be devised in a will, so it’s important to double check that the beneficiaries listed on these assets are who the testator intends to give them to.
4. Discuss Funeral Plans
In the throes of grief, the last thing many loved ones want to consider is how to plan a funeral. It’s hard to ascertain what a loved one would have wanted for their funeral after they’ve already passed, and making the countless decisions necessary to plan a funeral is another burden on an already-grieving family. That’s why it’s vital to discuss funeral plans with the testator before they die, and ensure that those plans are articulated clearly in the estate plan. Because not every detail can necessarily be translated into the estate plan, it’s advisable to have the difficult discussion regarding how the testator wants their celebration of life to go. There are also ways to plan ahead and even pre-pay for such considerations, such as picking a funeral home, casket, and who will lead the funeral service, if desired.
5. Contact the Right Professionals for the Job
The laws surrounding estate planning are complex and things can easily go wrong if the estate plan in question isn’t airtight. In order to construct and execute a complete and accurate estate plan, it’s important you have competent professionals guiding you through the process and helping you navigate your options. The Collins Law Firm offers comprehensive estate planning, estate administration, business law, and elder law services. We proudly serve Southeastern Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area. Our estate planning experts have decades of experience and we will help you build and fight to protect your legacy. Contact us or call (414)-207-6292. Initial consultations are always free and confidential!