Updated: Oct 18
Death is not an easy topic. Much like talking about money, it's a subject that doesn't slide into conversations easily, especially if it's about our own mortality. Who wants to think about funerals, settling estates, and life after we're gone?
Unfortunately, we have to at some point whether we want to or not. When we do, it's likely that we're asked who we want to serve as an Executor of our estate. These individuals or institutions are assigned the duty of settling our financial affairs when we're deceased. Their responsibilities can range from simple to complex depending on the circumstances and may fall on the shoulders of those with little to no understanding of what they're getting into.
Perhaps you've already served as an Executor or know someone who has, or you've already assembled end-of-life documents and chosen someone you know, like, and trust for this role. If not, we recommend that you do sooner rather than later and help them feel supported BEFORE you're gone.
3 Ways to Ease Executor of Estate Pains
The following are three ways you can make life easier for your Executor and therefore your loved ones BEFORE it's necessary.
1. Ensure Documents are Reviewed and Updated Annually
Make sure that key documents are in place and updated so that, in the case of an untimely death, your Executor has what he or she needs. A few essential items include a "Letter of Administration" that officially designates the Executor, a Last Will and Testament, and information on how to access other important documents needed to settle the estate.
Remember that the requirements and procedures for managing an estate can vary by jurisdiction, so it's a good idea to consult with an attorney or estate professional to ensure you follow all necessary legal and administrative steps.
We recommend that you schedule one or a few "Money Dates" per year focused on this task.
2. Make Documents Accessible
The last thing we want to saddle our loved ones with as they grieve is the challenges of accessing documents needed to settle an estate like tax returns, property deeds and titles, and bank accounts.
We recommend making a list of important passwords and directions for accessing key documents, and storing them in a safe place only certain individuals know about. Ideally, this information is not stored online unless it's via a password manager, and is shared with the Executor and others you trust.
One company has made this process easy by creating the "Next of Kin" box or NOKBOX.
I plan to assemble my own version of the box and post about my experience on social media. I also plan to offer a 30 challenge for others to do the same because having company, a system of accountability, and support can be helpful.
3. Choose Your Executor Wisely
When we finally met with our lawyer to update and finalize our will, we knew it would include some uncomfortable conversations about who gets what and who makes which decisions. As a blended family with five children, deciding on what's "fair" was tricky though we did our best.
One of the steps was to designate an Executor. We chose our oldest, much like my parents did. She agreed when asked, though she (or we) may not have had a complete understanding of what she was getting herself into. A few years later, she mentioned that she was also designated an Executor of her father's estate (we're divorced) and that, perhaps, it may be too much to do both.
Given that our experience may be common, we recommend revisiting your Executor designation during your annual document review as well as inviting them to the document review meeting(s) if possible.
In summary, I like to remind myself of how good I feel when things are "in order" even if getting them in order can be challenging. When I think about the second principle of Positive Money being that it's generational, I'm reminded of how much I've benefitted from my parents financial planning and hope to pass these practices on to our children.