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The Executor’s What, Where & Who

by | Aug 7, 2023 | Estate Planning

While it is an honor to be nominated, serving as the Executor of an estate is an added burden at a time when you likely have suffered a tremendous loss. If you know that you will one day serve as the Executor for a close friend or relative’s estate, ask your loved one to make time now to help you discover the “what,” “where,” and “who” of their assets. When the time comes, and unfortunately, it will come, having this information will alleviate tremendous stress and allow you to spend your energies where it’s most needed – honoring your loved one and healing yourself.

The “What” and “Where,” not the “Value,” are essential.

Look first at what assets they own and where they are located. The house they live in and the car in the garage may be obvious, but what about the other assets? Did they have a savings or checking account? Where do they bank? Did they have a 401(k)? Did they roll over any retirement accounts? Where is the rollover? Did they have an annuity or a life insurance policy? What is the insurance company? While it may be a difficult conversation, it is one worth having.

The “Who”

Another piece of important information about each asset is the “who.” Who is the owner and who, if anyone, is the beneficiary will determine whether the asset must be probated.

First, does your loved one own an asset jointly, and is the other owner living? If you can answer yes to both questions, this asset will pass outside of probate to the surviving owner. A typical asset owned jointly is the family home owned by Mom and Dad. While you may wish to assist in removing your loved one’s name from the account, deed, or title, a joint asset doesn’t go through probate.

Next, are any assets titled in the name of a trust? The Trustee distributes assets in the name of a trust according to the trust agreement or declaration. These assets avoid probate as well.

Finally, the remaining assets will be owned by your loved one individually. These assets require additional attention because whether the asset is a probate asset depends on whether a beneficiary is designated. Any asset with a beneficiary designation avoids probate as well.

Your loved one (or you as their named agent in a Financial Power of Attorney) can obtain beneficiary information for a bank or investment account by contacting the financial institution, or for vehicles, by contacting the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Any named beneficiary is of public record for real property and can be found at the county Recorder’s Office.

Now that you have a complete picture of your loved one’s assets and know which assets must be probated, you can take a deep breath. And, maybe, just maybe, you and your loved one set a date for you to retitle or name a beneficiary for each probate asset so that you can avoid probate altogether.

For more information on your role as an Executor, you can contact Angela Ferneding at 216-621-7860 or [email protected].

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