Will Your Executor Thank You?

By Barbara Eilertsen

          Most people assume that the job of executor is an easy one.  Only when they hire an attorney do they realize the extent of the responsibilities. website testing . Attorneys stress the importance of choosing the right person because the job of executor can be overwhelming. However, what you do in advance can make the job much easier.

          One of the most daunting tasks for the executor is locating all of the necessary records to establish the value of the estate. The most common assets found in an estate are: Social Security and other government benefits, pensions, annuity, insurance benefits, real estate, motor vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, etc., While liabilities on the other hand, consist of credit cards, car loans, utilities, mortgages, outstanding health care costs and other debts.

          Conducting a thorough search for this vital information can take days even months if the deceased left behind jumbled records or missing documents. Additionally technology has added computers, cell phones and online accounts to the search. There are still the traditional approaches of examining checkbooks, searching the residence, inspecting the safe deposit box and waiting  for the mail as a means to inventory the necessary assets and liabilities.

          Fortunately, there are steps you can take to smooth the way for your executor. Topping the list is recognizing that not everyone will be able to understand your system of managing documents. What works for you might not be apparent to your executor.  Furthermore, with e-statements and online banking, digital documents are quickly replacing physical papers. Because we are the creators of our own systems, we lose perspective regarding what may be necessary so that an outsider can locate our information. Many of our filing systems become cluttered with unnecessary information which only adds to the confusion.

          In my recent survey of 500 individuals, 75 percent of whom were over the age of 50, a bare majority gave themselves a score of 8 or higher on a 10-point scale when asked how organized they feel their important documents are. But when asked if they had communicated where their documents are, 15 percent had not communicated to anyone where this information is kept.  As for online banking, a shocking 72 percent responded yes, but only a little more than one-half had passwords available.  The most common places to keep information was a filing cabinet, home safe or safe deposit box. However, half the respondents had neither a home safe nor safe deposit box.

          These statistics reinforce the belief that many feel it will be easy for the appointed executor to find just what they need. This is rarely the case.

          Creating a “guidance system” for your executor is key to the process of preparation. Like a roadmap, a clear inventory list can help guide your executor through your estate. There are different techniques, but an easy one is to simply write down the various accounts that make up your assets and liabilities as well as your essential documents. List their location and who if anyone is responsible for helping with your estate, then store it in a home safe. A second technique is to download an inventory list from the Internet using the key words, “estate planning checklist.” This is very helpful if you feel you may need assistance.

          Another option is to check with your estate planning attorney, financial adviser or banker to see if they offer any services or suggestions.  Many times they can provide a website, software or service that not only will help make a roadmap, but give you a full-blown GPS system.

          We all know that communication is the crucial to the success of any plan.  If you have spent the time to collect and identify all of your information, it will be much easier for you to communicate with your executor.  Remember, you don’t have to reveal the secrets of your will, you simply have to have to an open dialogue to ensure they can carry out your wishes and locate all the necessary documents. Expecting your executor to step into your shoes without a clear direction can result in hours of searching and lost time for your loved ones.

Barbara is the founder of Annapolis-based Document Roadmap, which specializes in organizing and creating roadmaps and executor packages. She can be reached at [email protected]   

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