All in the Execution

Phil Kernen

A FRIEND WAS RECENTLY asked by his father to be executor of his estate—and, without hesitation, my friend agreed. But then the conversation quickly moved on to other topics, leaving my friend confused about his role.

My suggestion to my friend: Have another conversation with your dad—and ask these four questions:

What are your expectations? Someone who creates a will is known as a testator. The primary role of an executor is to settle the testator’s estate. The executor must arrange to pay outstanding debts and taxes. What remains must end up in the hands of those stipulated in the will. But how will all this get done? Some people may wish their executor to perform specific duties in a particular manner, using certain professionals and advisors. Others may not care how their executor carries out the responsibilities. After all, it’s no longer their problem.

Can I have a copy of the will? After you agree to be an executor, get a copy of the will. Reviewing the document will give you a better understanding of what’ll be involved. Should the beneficiaries or the distribution of assets differ from what you imagined, it’s better to discover that before the testator dies. This will give you time to discuss unusual circumstances or requests. That will lessen the odds that you’ll be frustrated or that any beneficiary will end up with hurt feelings.

Can I have a list of assets? It’s the responsibility of the executor to locate all the estate’s assets. On that score, unless the testator is very organized, you’ll have questions. Better to get those questions answered while the testator is around to help. What if you wait too long? You could find yourself rummaging through financial statements and legal documents in filing cabinets, monitoring the mail as it slowly arrives, or perhaps paying an accountant or lawyer to gather the information.

What sort of funeral do you want? This is a hard question to ask. But the fact is, preferences about funeral arrangements vary. One person may request a quiet graveside remembrance, while another may want an elaborate celebration of life. Discuss these wishes with the testator. I recall the strange look I gave my mom when she told me that she’d recently purchased a burial plot. But when my mom passed away, I realized the gift she gave our family by taking away that decision.

Also ask the testator if he or she intends to donate any organs and tissues. There’s no age limit for such donations. People in their 70s and older have donated and received organs successfully.

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