The death of a loved one can be an overwhelming experience for everyone involved, but it can be even more stressful for the executor of the will who is thrown into a complex situation and often with no prior experience. However, with a little forethought and suitable estate planning advice, the executor’s role can be made far less stressful and much easier for them to navigate.
Estate planning involves developing a strategy for the disposal of an individual’s assets after their death and usually involves a tax effective Will to protect their estate and the interests of their beneficiaries. The executor has a key role in administering this estate, specifically arranging for the funeral, identifying and securing the deceased’s assets, applying for probate if necessary, paying any outstanding debts and distributing their assets according to their Will.
Remember that without a death certificate, the executor’s role is severely restricted and they will be unable to actually distribute the deceased assets. The death certificate will be obtained by the funeral director who then passes it onto the executor. Once in their possession, they can distribute the deceased’s assets according to their Will.
Arranging for the deceased’s funeral
Unless you have previously acted as an executor, you might not know that the body of the deceased actually becomes the property of the executor, so it’s the executor who makes the final decision on how and where the body is interred. Of course, most executors consult with other family members about the funeral, but it’s also important that the executor checks for any burial or funeral instructions that might have been left by the deceased.
Decisions that need to be made include whether the decreased will be buried or cremated; if buried, do they already have a plot and if not, where will they be buried? If cremated, where will their ashes be interred or scattered? The executor will need to arrange the funeral and notify family, friends, colleagues etc., about the date, time and location.
Paying for the funeral can quite often be a big concern for the executor, because they can be very expensive. This is where estate planning can also smooth the way by ensuring that there are sufficient funds available in the bank who will usually release these funds for the purpose of a funeral.
The executor needs to ensure that the funeral costs don’t total more than the available funds and if they have any problems accessing the deceased’s bank accounts to pay for the funeral, it’s important to speak to the deceased’s solicitor to facilitate a smooth transaction.
Identifying and securing the deceased’s assets
If the deceased’s estate planning was comprehensive and good advice was sought by the deceased, it should be a fairly simple matter to identify their assets. Estate planning should include an up-to-date list of the deceased’s assets, investments, bank accounts, credit cards, passwords, list of the bills that need to be paid and any Centrelink or other pensions they receive.
Securing their assets might involve changing locks, photographing or video recording household items, moving vehicles to a secure location or locking them in the property’s garage and taking possession of valuable items. The executor also needs to check that all the appropriate insurances are in place, because if something happens and assets are not insured, the executor can be liable.
The role of an executor can be both overwhelming and fraught with difficulties, which is why good estate planning should be an essential part of everyone’s life.