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Seven steps to easier management of your estate

When you choose someone to act as the Executor of your estate, you are giving them the responsibility of taking charge of your estate because you trust them and you are confident that they will carry out your wishes. While this may be taken as a compliment, most people appointed as Executors are unaware of the demands of the role.

Your Executor will have the responsibility of applying for probate, paying liabilities, distributing assets and closing accounts, all according to your wishes. It is a role not to be taken lightly. It could take up a serious chunk of time coupled with them having to deal with the emotional aspects surrounding the estate and its administration.

In the absence of any issues surrounding the estate, and even with complete documentation, the task of performing these responsibilities is daunting for an Executor especially for a first timer. It becomes more difficult if they encounter setbacks such as not being able to find the required documents or being given the wrong information and having to reconstruct information from scratch.

To avoid delay and what might become massive inconvenience and expense, help your Executors by ensuring they have access to everything they need when the time comes.

Here is a list of things you can do to help your Executor:

1. Locate and update your executed Last Will & Testament 

Your Executor can act on behalf of your estate only if they have the originally executed Last Will & Testament. It is therefore important to make sure that it is up to date, no pages are missing and all pages are signed and witnessed. Your Executor will need this document when they seek probate so make sure they have access to it.

For practicality, give your Executor a certified copy of your Last Will & Testament or at least tell them where they can find the document.

2. Prepare an inventory of all your assets and liabilities

Another document required for probate is an inventory of assets and liabilities of the estate. By preparing the inventory, your Executor will have an easier time in preparing and lodging the application for probate. Assets you may have include bank accounts, properties, shares owned in companies, automobiles while liabilities include mortgage, utilities, and mobile phone subscriptions.

3. Prepare a list of contacts of professionals and advisers you liaise with

Much of the time spent by your Executor will be in determining who your contacts are and searching for them. You can help your Executor by providing contact details for you solicitor, accountant, financial planner and life insurance agent.

4. Organise all your title documents

If any documents you are required to have are lost or missing it would be better if you arrange for their replacement now rather than requiring your Executor to do so. This is especially true for real estate as the documents are necessary to transmit the property to the beneficiaries.

Instances when you may not have custody of the physical title documents include:

  • where they are held by your mortgagee
  • simply lost over time
  • some Australian states do not issue paper documents of title e.g. Queensland (a printout of the Registration Confirmation Statement from the Queensland Land Titles Office is recommended) or Victoria (obtain a copy of the electronic certificate of title)

5. List your online accounts

You may want to provide a list of all online accounts together with the login details (e.g. usernames, passwords, answers to secret questions) to your Executor so that they can close or continue using some online accounts. Online accounts you might have include bank accounts, share registry accounts, utilities accounts, social media accounts, email accounts … virtually anything provided online.

6. Make sure your Executor has access to some cash

Your estate will incur bills such as medical expenses, funeral expenses, and legal fees. It is best to make sure your estate contains a cash account and give your Executor access to it so that they can pay these bills and other expenses of the estate.

7. Put the documents in a place where your Executor can find them

Gather all your important documents together and store them in a safe place for easy access for your Executor. It is advisable to prepare the following documents:

  • Last Will and Testament which is up to date
  • Codicil (if any)
  • Powers of Attorney, general or enduring
  • Appointment of Enduring Guardian
  • Living Will
  • Birth Certificate
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Citizenship Certificate, if naturalised
  • Certificates of Titles
  • Life insurance policies
  • Share certificates, brokerage statements and other documents of title of your Investments
  • Binding death benefit nominations which is up to date
  • List of assets and liabilities
  • List of contacts of professionals and advisers
  • Details of any safe or safe deposit box you use
  • Automobile registrations
  • List of online accounts to be operated or closed with details of usernames and passwords

The location of the documents should be secure and if possible protected from fire, storm and flood. Ideally you would scan all the documents and create a parallel electronic safe so that if the physical documents are lost or destroyed your electronic copies will be sufficient for your Executor to administer your estate.

By doing these things the Executor is better able to perform their duties. Planning ensures that the estate can be implemented with as little fuss and problem as possible and will avoid unnecessary delays and, importantly, fees, costs and charges.

 

Jonathan See is a Solicitor with Townsends Business & Corporate Lawyers. This is an excerpt of the author’s recently published article, ‘Preparing for the Inevitable: Getting your estate documents together’. It is general information and does not consider the circumstances of any individual.

 


 

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