Disclaimer: This guide is meant to provide general, helpful information to an Executor/Personal Representative of an Estate. It is not intended to be legal advice or a set of hard-and-fast rules. If you have questions or concerns about your specific situation, please consider giving us a call today at (410) 535-6100.
Being chosen as the executor of an estate can be both an honor and a challenge, all at the same time. By definition, an executor is delegated with the huge responsibility of ensuring that a person’s last wishes are honored. It is therefore critical that a person who has been designated as the executor of an estate fully understands what is required of them prior to the passing of a loved one. What follows is a general list of items to consider prior to a loved one’s passing. We encourage you to print it out, make notes and changes to suit your specific needs, and, as always, give us a call if you have any questions about what is being asked of you as the executor.
Estate Planning To-Do’s Before A Loved One Passes Away:
- If there is a Will, find it and make sure you can read the names and addresses of the witnesses. Be aware that the Will may be filed at the Office of the Register of Wills in the county where the Will maker resides. If it is, only the testator/testatrix (male/female who created the Will) or a person with explicit written instructions signed by the testator and with proper identification can withdraw a Will from safekeeping.
- Helpful Tip: Do not put a Will in a safe deposit box. Record it with the Register of Wills in the county where you reside. Accessing a safe deposit box after death will require a court order and an escort from the Register of Wills.
- If a sick loved one doesn’t have a Will, make one (provided they are still competent). Right now. Even if you don’t think it’s necessary because there are only a couple of heirs and everything is to be “divided equally”, still make one. Why? A Will allows someone to make the decision as to who will take care of their affairs (known as the Personal Representative in Maryland) rather than leaving it up to the heirs or a court to figure out. All estates that are opened in Maryland require a Personal Representative. The Will can also do things like direct that all of the Decedent’s debts are to be paid by the estate and ensure that each heir receives exactly what they’re supposed to.
- Give it a “once-over” and make sure you understand what it says. If it doesn’t make sense, consider having it reviewed by an attorney. If the Testator/Testatrix is still competent, have the Will reviewed by him or her to ensure it still captures his or her wishes.
- If you have been named the Personal Representative (also often referred to as the Executor), make sure you’re comfortable with that responsibility. If you’re not, consider consulting an attorney about your options.
- Find out if the person would rather be buried or cremated, if they have a location in mind, and consider the options available for paying those expenses either now or after they have passed.
- If the person has not done any form of Living Will or Advanced Directive, have one done now.
- Along the lines of above, if the person has not designated a Healthcare Agent or Proxy through a Health Care Power of Attorney (POA), have one done now. If the person has rapidly failing health and is being cared for at a hospital or other medical facility, it’s important that someone has the authority to advocate medical care issues on their behalf.
- You might want to also consider ensuring there is a Durable General Financial POA. A Financial POA will be able to take care of the banking, bills, and other financial matters. One person can be appointed as both the Healthcare and Financial POA or you can split up these duties.
- Try to consolidate all financial assets into as few bank accounts or brokerage accounts as possible. You want the estate administration to be as simple as possible. But be sure to consult with an accountant before doing so in case there are any unintended tax consequences.
- If the person has individually owned stocks, you may want to consider having them transferred into the account of an investment firm, stock broker, etc. Your goal is to have all individually owned stocks housed in an institution that can transfer all stock-related assets with a simple paper transaction. Again, be sure to consult with an accountant first.
- Talk to an attorney/accountant to decide if the assets should be run through the probate process or if having them all owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS) is the better approach.
- If you’re not sure about any of these activities, and even if you think you are, consider seeking the advice of an Estates and Trusts Attorney as soon as you can to ensure all such matters are timely taken care of which will give you the peace of mind to focus simply on your loved one.
For a general checklist of tasks to complete beyond that first week of a loved ones passing, please download the free .pdf below. This .pdf breaks down tasks to complete in the first two weeks, the first month, and beyond