Estate Planning Pays Off
The True Reward of Settling an Estate
Settling a loved one’s estate is never a process anyone looks forward to and is one that can be incredibly draining emotionally. There are many financial dealings that need to be sorted out for the executor (people or institutions responsible for handling the decendent’s estate). Some of the executor's duties are very demanding. An executor must act in a fiduciary capacity. They need to secure the assets, pay the debts of the person who died, set up and possibly transfer bank and investment accounts, ensure all the proper tax returns are filed, pay any estate taxes due, locate wills and trusts (which are sometimes not easily found) and be accountable to the Probate Court and the beneficiaries upon completion of his or her duties. The executor also needs to notify
those people who are affected in some way by the person’s passing, and distribute the remainder of those assets in accordance of the decedent’s wishes.
To settle an estate properly takes a great deal of time and effort regardless whether the person had a lot of money or very little. By naming a professional to manage your affairs, you gain some permanence. A professional executor is unlikely to refuse to serve or to resign and should have the investment expertise as well as the legal, tax and accounting background to do the job well and efficiently. It is tremendously important that individuals seek out knowledgeable professionals to help them through the estate settlement process – skilled professionals you know and trust.
I am personally familiar with intricacies of financial and estate planning as I have been engaged in this work for more than twenty years. But when my Dad asked my brother and me to handle his affairs when his ‘time came’ I was struck by what all my classes and training could never truly teach me. I learned to experience life through my Dad’s eyes. My father died in the spring of 2009 and my experience since then has been remarkable. By reading the documents directing who he wanted to remember, what non profits he valued, and where his personal effects were to go, it gave me insights to my father’s values, and feelings that my 40-plus years hadn’t already taught me.
This process has allowed me to sort through, at my own pace, all of his pictures and letters (yes not emails or text messages, kids) from his childhood, his time in the Pacific during World War II, his schooling, sports, family and professional life, as well as his friends. I have found myself remembering his voice telling the stories, reading letters my mom wrote to him while dating, finding cards and pictures from my brothers and sisters he felt were important to save (while at the same time not finding pictures that I drew for him he obviously didn’t think he needed to save)! I have learned that caring for a loved one while he’s alive is as important as looking after their wishes when he is no longer. As much as my Dad had relied on my visits to the nursing home and the daily stories of me and my family, he now relies on me to let everyone know how to carry out his wishes.
There are unpleasant and time consuming tasks as well. Depending on how organized someone had been in their planning can dramatically impact how much time is required to finalize their estate. People named in the will subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) offer their opinions to the executor on how they feel it should be settled (with particular emphasis on how fast things should be distributed).
The IRS is as impatient as any beneficiary and they have strict timetables as to when returns need to be filed, what is taxable and what is not, and how much is owed to the state and federal governments, just to name a few.
As executor, you are given a fiduciary responsibility to maintain order, be fair to the process, and follow the laws that govern estate settlement. In my special role as executor of my father’s estate, it gave me precious time to truly understand the meaning and purpose of my Dad’s life.
For the past 11 years, Robert has served as Manager of New Business for Enterprise Investment Advisors, with a focus on investment, financial retirement and estate planning for individuals, families and non profit organizations. He is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) and is the past president of the Merrimack Valley Estate Planning. A resident of Chelmsford, Rob serves on the board of several local non-profits. For further information, Rob can be reached at 978 656-5560.