Have you found an executor (also known as a personal representative) to handle your affairs should you become incapacitated or die?
Planning for death-related events isn’t fun, so you may be procrastinating. Or you may be unclear about what’s involved — what you’ll be asking the person to do. Your executor must possess the stamina, patience and persistence required to get the job done. If not, the process may become very difficult, if not impossible, to complete when the time comes.
“Being an executor can be harder than you think,” says David Frisch, a certified financial planner (CFP) at Frisch Financial Group in Melville, New York. ”Often, loved ones are chosen, as in many instances they should be, but frankly, they are usually unprepared and then overwhelmed.”
Still, it's important to name an executor so you have a say about what happens to your estate. You can change your mind and choose someone else later, says Adam Wojtkowski, a CFP at Copper Beech Wealth Management in Mansfield, Massachusetts. If you fail to choose one, the court will do it for you. “It’s usually a surviving spouse or an adult child, but it depends on the situation and state laws.”
A real-life example
Right now, Jan Valecka and her husband are finding settling an estate for a relative a rigorous process — even though she’s a CFP at Valecka Wealth Management in Dallas. After the death of an uncle who lived in Chicago, the couple planned the funeral and then found the will. Valecka’s husband was named executor for the estate, as well as trustee, and has power of attorney for the uncle’s widow, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, the uncle left no other instructions, and many decisions had to be made quickly. The Valeckas had to find care for the widow before flying back to Texas, secure the house and cars, and figure out bank and credit card information — with no passwords. They’ve sold the main home, but a lake home still needs to be maintained.
“We, of course, are doing everything for the widow and the memory of the family,” Valecka says. “But I’m not sure what will happen if you don’t have someone you trust to be the executor of your estate. All the photos, collectibles, cars . . . it really is overwhelming.”
As this story illustrates, things can become more complicated than they need to be if you don’t leave clear instructions, including where to find your most important documents, the keys to your home and car, and the usernames and passwords to your various accounts. Everything becomes harder, just as the people in your life are grieving your loss.
7 tasks an executor must complete
Like Valecka and her husband, your executor may start by helping to plan your funeral. You can make that easier by expressing your wishes to others and leaving that information among your documents.
Here are some of the other things that must be done. For a complete list, consult a financial planner or attorney if you can.