Meet with the will writer
A testator (will writer) has access to all the information an executor of will needs, but might not think to gather it and tell the executor about it. By meeting with the testator before he/she dies and completing the process outlined in this step on this site, you can better understand wishes for everything from funeral services to where pertinent personal financial information is stored.
It also can be very helpful for the will writer to store the answers to those questions in a safe place, as your memory of specific details might fade over time. We offer worksheets here on executor.org to help with this — but will never ask for an account number for a financial account, for security reasons.
The stress of the death of a loved one can also cloud your memory, so a comprehensive record of the discussion can be of great merit later in this process.
Having the Tough Discussions: Why an executor/executrix should discuss estate planning with the will writer
In many cases, you will be notified of someone’s intent to name you as the executor or executrix of their estate while they are still alive. Perhaps it’s a parent who wants you to know they have a will. Or a newly-divorced friend who asks you to take on the task because if something should happen to him or her in the near future, their children will not be old enough to deal with such matters. Maybe it’s your long-time neighbor who just became a widow and has no children to oversee the job. There are a lot of scenarios that can put you in this role.
While your first reaction might be to not want to discuss details – who really wants to imagine a time when someone close to us will die? – it will be of great value to you to have this difficult conversation. It also will likely be of great comfort to those naming you as executor because they will know they have prepared you for the job to the best of their ability. When you learn you are being named executor in someone’s will, it is understandable if you need to take some time to ponder what this means to you.
Keep in mind that first and foremost, it’s likely a compliment to you. The writer of the will thinks highly enough of you to ask you to take care of their final wishes. But compliment aside, it’s understandable, particularly if you’ve never been an executor before, that you feel concerned about knowing what to do. You might not even know where you would begin.
This is where taking a few days to learn more about the process and coming up with some questions for the will writer will serve you well. Plan a time to get together with the person. Make sure it’s someplace where you can be uninterrupted, and talk openly and freely about anything and everything that needs to be covered – including specific funeral wishes, financial matters, etc. Take good notes and ask to review any available documents that might concern your work as an executor, such as the will, investments documents, etc.
Ask how the will writer keeps track of these documents and other information you will need, such as account passwords, information about bills that are paid online versus by check, etc. Ask if the will writer is planning to have enough resources at the end so you can hire an attorney, an accountant, a financial planner, or whoever else might be needed to help you close the estate. Again, these might be difficult questions to ask. But it shows you are taking the executor role seriously and want to make sure you handle matters correctly.
After this meeting, you might want to look over your notes again and see if you forgot to ask anything important. Don’t hesitate to request a follow-up discussion. And don’t hesitate to ask the will writer to create a packet of useful information – such as account numbers, passwords, monthly bills, locations of investments, outstanding debts, etc. – for you and keep it updated. This information should be in a set location in their home so that it can be easily, and quickly, accessed by you.
After sitting down with the will writer and learning more about the work that will be needed, you also should truly consider whether you are up for the job. Just because someone has named you an executor does not mean you are locked into the role. After the person’s death, you can request that a judge oversee the estate. But if you know in advance that you aren’t comfortable in the role, it would be best for you – and the will writer – to be open about that. Perhaps you would just prefer they add a contingency person, someone who can take over the role of executor or executrix if you are not able to when the time comes. Or they can remove you as executor entirely and choose another, which will prevent you from having to temporarily handle matters upon their death until a judge can step in.