Prior to Death

An executor often has little to no advance notice, and thus can skip this section and go straight to First Week. On the other hand, if you do have some time, there are things you can do in advance which will prove very helpful:

Determine Location of Key Items

Ask your loved one for the location of key items and documents (you don't need to discuss the details of these items if one or both of you don't want to; the main thing is to be able to find the relevant information when the time comes):

  • Family, friend, and other acquaintance contact information
  • Any advance medical directives
  • Copy or location of any will
  • Safe deposit box locations and keys
  • Social security number
  • Location of keys and combinations
  • Financial accounts and access information
  • Property deeds and vehicle ownership certificates
  • Important outstanding debts
  • Cemetery plots or funeral arrangements that may have been prepaid
  • Tax submission situation (has the estate owner submitted income tax forms for this year?)

Obtain Power of Attorney

While any power of attorney will become void once the estate owner dies, you may find it helpful to have this authority in the final stages, when your executor powers have not yet kicked in, but decisions need to be made and actions taken.

Consider Access to Safe Deposit Boxes

Many people store important information (and sometimes valuables) in safe deposit boxes. You can ask the bank to search a safe deposit box for a will, but it's easier if you simply have access to it yourself. Consider asking your loved one to add you to the bank's list of people who are allowed to access any such boxes. See also Safe Deposit Boxes.

Explore Funeral Options

You may find it easier to compare funeral options and expenses in advance, so that when the time comes you've done your research and have one less thing to think about. Obviously, this is not something you need to discuss with your loved one unless you both feel comfortable doing so (see Funerals).

Be Careful of POD

In an attempt to simplify the estate settlement process, some people try to put all their assets into Payable on Death (POD) accounts, which are not subject to probate. While PODs can be beneficial, if all estate assets are POD, there will be nothing left to pay debts (such as taxes or credit card bills), cover funeral expenses, compensate the executor, etc. Such estates will be insolvent, administration will be complex, and creditors will have the ability to recover funds from the POD beneficiaries. Consequently, if your loved one is considering such an approach, you may want to suggest they leave at least some assets in the estate itself, or provide some other mechanism to handle estate expenses.

Say Your Goodbyes

Don't wait for the last minute to say your heartfelt goodbyes. There are many things that people realize they wish they had said when someone passes away, and if you have the chance, take it. People sometimes shy away from doing this, because they worry that it reminds the dying person of his or her approaching death, but believe us, they already know. The dying person often greatly values hearing your appreciation of the role that he or she has played in your life, and may have a few words he or she would like to share with you as well.

See also Choosing an Executor and Timeline.

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