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Preparing for your role as executor of an estate

A loved one, close friend or someone you know professionally has asked if they can name you as their executor as they prepare their estate plan. That likely shows that they have a of faith in you – particularly if there were other choices they could have made.

Give it some thought before you agree. Even with a thorough estate plan, administering an estate takes time and work. If you agree to it, it’s a good idea to know as much as possible about what’s in the plan, other details that may not be part of it and the wishes and goals of the testator. (A testator is someone who creates a will, although an estate plan often includes additional documents.)

You can make things easier on yourself and help ensure that you follow the testator’s wishes if you spend some time with them discussing the logistics of the estate plan and other things you’ll need to know. Let’s look at a few basics that every executor should know.

Where are the documents located?

There should be paper copies as well as digital ones. Make sure you can access both. They shouldn’t be in a safe deposit box unless you’re a joint owner of it. If there are online copies, make sure you have any needed login information and passwords. (You should also have all login credentials you’ll need to access online accounts.)

Are all assets accounted for?

Sometimes, it’s the little things people fight over after someone dies – often because they aren’t included in the will, trust or official attachment. This is called the “residuary estate.” There should be instructions in the will for what to do with the residuary estate. You don’t want to get in the middle of a family feud over these.

Make sure you’re informed of any changes

If the testator makes changes to any of their documents, it’s important for them to notify you. Be careful if they tell you they changed their mind about something, like where they want their ashes spread or whom they want to get their antique desk, but they haven’t changed the necessary documents. Just making a verbal notification or even scribbling something in the margins of a document isn’t enough if anyone contests it.

It’s also wise to know where they are getting their professional estate planning guidance. This can help you know whom you can turn to if you have questions or concerns when it comes time to carry out your responsibilities.