After you die, your executor is your chosen representative to handle all of your debts and distribute your remaining assets. This is not a job for just anyone, as not everyone is equipped with the discipline and skills to handle the task.
When you name an executor, also known as a personal representative, you should prepare your personal representative for the tasks ahead. Most wills are easy to decipher, but debts, trusts, and a complicated history of estate planning may leave your personal representative confused or surprised during probate.
The best way to prepare your personal representative is to communicate your intentions and the ins and outs of your assets and obligations. Remember to mention the following pieces of information when discussing your estate with the person you choose to be your executor.
Relationship Dynamics. You chose your personal representative for a reason, but that reason may not be apparent to all of your loved ones. To avoid family tension, you should let your personal representative and your attorney know why you chose them to handle your estate. Providing these reasons in writing will help communicate your decision to the rest of your family.
Alternative Personal Representatives. The role of personal representative may be too much pressure on the person you choose when the time comes. In the event that your personal representative chooses to decline the appointment or is unable to perform the services due to illness or death, you should provide for alternative personal representatives in your will.
Debts. Once probate has begun, your personal representative will need to settle your debts. Let your personal representative and your attorney know about significant debts and amounts that you owe to creditors. This information will save time and also limit the surprises that may arise during probate.
Where to Find Important Documents. Your personal representative and the estate attorney will need thorough documentation and information about your finances. Throughout your life, these documents are best kept in a secure spot. But if they’re hidden, your personal representative and the estate attorney may have a tough time finding them. Consider collecting the following documents and revealing the location to your attorney:
- Social security information
- Insurance information
- Real estate deeds
- Tax and income records
- Your original Will
Values of Specific Assets. Your personal representative or his or her attorney probably won’t be art appraisers. Therefore, when they are faced with valuing your assets, they might not realize the value of your art, collectible coins, or antiques. Alert your personal representative and your attorney to any assets that may be difficult to value (heirlooms, art, collections, and so on) and any information that will be helpful in dealing with the sale of those assets.
How to Get in Touch with Your Estate Planning Attorney. No one is going to understand the complexities of your estate better than the attorney who helped you to draft your estate plan. Make sure that your family, personal representative, and beneficiaries of your plan know how to reach out to this person. Make sure you give your family and your personal representative your attorney’s business card and contact information.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A., a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation.