Are you serving as a newly appointed executor (also known as a "personal representative") over the estate of a deceased family member or friend? If yes, then there are a lot of things you must do in that role.
And, just as important, there are a lot of the things you better not do.
This important topic was taken up in a recent Philly.com article titled “Five Things an Executor Should Do Right Away.”
The article offers five practical pointers to help you accomplish the mission and steer clear of trouble.
Here is a quick summary of the five to get you started:
The same will that appoints you may hold the key to some very, very time sensitive matters.
For starters, does the will include any funeral wishes, such as whether the decedent wanted to be cremated or buried, let alone where they want their remains buried or interred.
Was the decedent a veteran? Was a DD Form 214 among his or her important papers? This form is the key to burial or interment in a federal cemetery and a headstone, along with other military honors.
While you are at it, did the decedent indicate any preference for charitable donations in lieu of flowers at the funeral?
Failing to honor these wishes of the very person who appointed you to the task is not good.
2. See if they have any Funeral or Burial Plans.
Regardless whether the will itself contains "last wishes" instructions, be sure to see if the decedent "pre-planned" ot otherwise reduced his or her instructions to writing.
If yes, then you, as the executor, need to ensure that those wishes are followed.
Many funeral homes will plan a funeral with someone and keep those wishes until the person dies, even if he or she did not prepay.
Naturally, when a funeral has been pre-paid the original article cautions executors not to "pay twice" by using estate funds to pay for everything again.
Two sources to contact in addition to local funeral homes about the last wishes of the decedent are family members and the estate attorney.
3. Secure the Deceased’s Home and Property.
The only folks in our society who are lower than those who prey on senior citizens are those thieves who steal from them after they die.
What do I mean?
Since obituaries are published in newspapers and online, they provide perfect "leads" for thieves.
So, while the family is mourning at the visitation or funeral, thieves are busy breaking into the home of the recently departed ... and are departing with its contents.
I told you these were lowlifes of lowlifes.
As a result, arrange for someone to stay in the home during the visitation and funeral services.
Oh, by the way, check on any home maintenance matters and have them repaired.
They are your responsibility now.
4. Talk to the Beneficiaries and the Deceased’s Family.
Communication is key, especially between you and the family members of the decedent.
In fact, it would be helpful to map out a plan and provide a time line of expectations. As a result, everyone would be on the same book and page when it comes to the steps required until the estate is closed - and the assets are eventually distributed.
This should be in writing, too.
Because grieving family members are not in the clearest state of mind right after losing their loved one. If the game plan is in writing, then they can refer to it again and again.
Side benefit: It will save you from answering the same questions over and over with different family members.
5. Spend Some Time Grieving. Finally, remember to take time to grieve.
This is especially true if you have lost a family member or friend who thought enough of you to appoint you as executor.
Remember to have patience, too.
The loss of a loved one brings out the best and sometimes the worst in us all.
Hopefully these five tasks will help you get off to a solid start, but nothing can replace the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you through the process.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit my estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: Philly.com (July 24, 2015) “Five Things an Executor Should Do Right Away”