18 May 2015

Facing Mortality: Roles to fill

My housemate's mother passed away in July 2014 and my housemate is acting as the estate's personal representative. This post is inspired by her experience.

One of the steps in making a will is sounding out the folks you want to have roles in your estate plan:

The (possible) roles:
  • personal representative: (aka the executor of your estate) who has primary legal power and responsibility to wind up your affairs and transfer your assets to your heirs 
  • heirs: folks who would receive goods or money from your estate. In most cases you don't need to ask in advance if someone wants to be your beneficiary; however, if you have pets it is good manners to ask if someone wants to be the heirs of your pets and take responsibility for them. 
  • funeral/ wake/ memorial planner: This is not information that would go in your will as such, but most estate planning binders have a section for your funeral plans and if you have a friend / religious organizations/ prepaid funeral who can do this job, it would be one less thing your personal representative would have to manage. 
  • guardian of minor children: if not the same person as your personal representative. Note that even if you have a spouse, you need a backup guardian. 
It can save time if you find candidates for these roles before you start working with an attorney. On the flip side, any good attorney you consult with should be able to give you a list of what you will need to bring to your appointment in order for them to draft the will. In some cases, one person will take on all of the roles listed above. 

Always ask before giving someone a role in your estate. It is a heavy load on top of their every-day life and their grief on losing you (think of it like asking someone to take on a part-time job on top of their usual responsibilities). Look for someone who finds the idea of helping you and your loved ones as a gift they can give you and not an onerous duty to take on. Closing out your estate properly can be a way to allow them to say goodbye in love and service.

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