As a professional that has spent my 30-year career servicing the fiduciary industry, I never had to personally fulfill the capacities of Executor and Power of Attorney for a family member… until 2022 arrived.
Unfortunately, I had three family members pass away within 6 months and I was responsible for settling their affairs. Although I fully understand the duties of an executor from my career spent within the fiduciary industry, you can never plan enough in advance. Like many things, there are always a few “lessons learned” for me that I wished I had completed sooner instead of procrastinating.
One of the reasons I joined Atticus is because I am passionate to help other people navigate this process for their family. Our mission every day is to provide a solution to simplify the lives of executors and advisors navigating estate settlement, and to save them valuable time and money!
If you are a financial or wealth advisor to client families that will be going through this, you are part of the process… And it never hurts to lend some valuable planning advice during an emotional time to help solidify you as a Trusted Advisor for your clients – especially knowing that approximately 67% of inheritors change financial advisors immediately after a death.
As I reflect on the whirlwind of my situation personally this past year, below are 3 tips (lessons learned) that a future fiduciary (in various capacities) can plan ahead of time to result in a swifter and smoother probate process.
1. Create an inventory of assets and account titling
It is never too early to start organizing a list of assets and liabilities for a family member in advance of them passing away. Documenting account numbers, websites, and phone numbers in a centralized place is ideal, and you will surely “thank yourself” later.
Oftentimes a parent may be “slow” to unveil their assets with you, so taking advantage of opportunities as they arise will create an evolving foundation that will help you in the future. In addition, as a family member becomes ill, eventually there will be a time that the authorized recipients on their financial accounts should be reviewed and updated if appropriate.
As my father’s health grew increasingly worse, I spoke to him about getting added to his bank accounts. Unfortunately, it never happened, so I was left with having to jump through a few hoops that could have been avoided.
If a Trust is set up, checking to make sure the appropriate accounts are properly titled in the trust is critical. Another task I wish I did was sell a car that was no longer needed. Either gifting the car or selling in advance, can save families a few headaches in not having to deal with the department of motor vehicles.
2. Execute a Durable Power of Attorney (POA) before it is too late
While a loved one is alive and ill, it becomes critical at some point for the POA to “step in” and either help with financial affairs or to at least watch closely from the sidelines. As my family members became ill over time, a few specific situations that I stepped into that helped having a POA were:
Taking advantage of executing a POA earlier in the process can often feel like a slippery slope, but establishing this capacity and getting authorized by providers early can save you valuable time down the road (and a few less headaches).
3. Get some help… and err on the side of over communicating!
It is important during the probate process to align yourself with advisors and resources.
Every estate is different and many times an executor might not be familiar with the probate laws where someone passes away. In addition, some estates are complicated and require the hiring of an attorney and other specialized experts. In many other circumstances, estates may be easily handled with the aid of some research and helpful assistance.
For example… check out the Atticus Probate and Estate Settlement Solution
If you are an Executor and need help navigating the process or access to additional resources, be sure to check out the software platform we’ve designed to help families and their advisors save time and money by navigating the probate, estate settlement and inheritance process together.
Lastly, if you are serving as executor or personal representative and there are other siblings or family members named as beneficiaries, it is important to keep them in the loop, so be certain to communicate (or over-communicate) throughout the process. Let them know your plan and answer any questions they may have. Many times, proactive communication can minimize contentious situations and get everyone on the same page.
There are certainly a lot of aspects to consider regarding tips and best practices through estate settlement, but I hope hearing some of my biggest learned lessons can help you save some time through the process.
Either way, we’d love to hear from you— give us a shout or drop any questions in the comments below.