Being an estate executor is a difficult, time-consuming job that is typically an unfamiliar one as well. It’s easy to get stressed and feel like you’ll never get it all done.
At Executor.org, we work to simplify the executor process by creating a custom road map to help executors complete the job, which often includes more than 100 tasks. We also have collected advice from experts on how to get through the process with a minimal amount of stress and anxiety. Here are seven tips for keeping your stress lower when serving as an estate executor:
1. Take time to grieve.
In most cases, if you are named as executor of someone’s estate, they are a family member or close friend. So in addition to taking on the role, you’ll also likely be dealing with grief. Grief not only makes us sad, but also can make us irritable, anxious and unable to concentrate. Remember that, while there will be things that need to be done right away (such as funeral planning, if it hasn’t already been arranged), for the most part, you will have the time to take a breath, mourn with loved ones, and get through the first couple weeks after the loss without worrying about all the executor business just yet.
2. Ask for help.
Settling an estate is often confusing. You’ll see some complicated documents such as wills and trusts, and you’ll have to wrap your head around at least a basic understanding of probate court requirements. Later in the process, items may need to be appraised and sold. It can seem overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. In fact, in most cases, you really should not undertake the process by yourself (unless you are a professional who does this day in and day out). Attorneys, accountants, financial planners, realtors, appraisers and others can help, and estate funds can be used to pay their fees, so the expense is not yours. Remember, it’s not the job of the executor to personally close the estate, but to manage the process.
3. Stay organized.
An executor has a lot to keep up with and manage. From financial documents to death certificates and everything in between, the paperwork can seem overwhelming. That is why it is so important to stay organized. Executor.org users tell us our interactive checklist (which we create specially for them) is an invaluable resource in not only knowing what needs to be done, but also keeping track of it all so nothing slips through the cracks. If you’re not using Executor.org, make a list of things that need to be done, and once they are complete, put notes and documentation in a filing system. You should be making notes each time you correspond with someone regarding the estate. Spend time each week maintaining your filing system and checking items off the to-do list, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
4. Communicate with beneficiaries.
Beneficiaries obviously have a vested interest in the project of settling an estate. They’ll probably be eager to see the estate settled, the deceased’s home cleared out, and any keepsakes and assets distributed. It is important to communicate with them often, to put them at ease about the progress and inform them of any delays. Remember that everyone involved in the process, especially people named in the will, want to hear from you on a regular basis. Even if it’s just a quick update, it’s best to let everyone know what’s going on.
5. Take care of yourself.
As mentioned above, in most cases executors have had a close relationship with the person who has passed away and will, in addition to the stress of being executor, be dealing with the stress of the loss. Grief and sadness can stick around for a long time and leave you feeling extra depleted and generally unmotivated. Often, it just takes time to feel better, but be sure to not forget to take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough rest, exercise, and seek grief counseling, if needed. Understand you might not be 100 percent because of grief, and make sure self-care doesn’t slip too far down the list of your priorities.
6. Understand not everything needs to be done at once.
It typically takes about a year to settle an estate. In fact, there are some parts of the process you can’t rush, even if you want to. Don’t put pressure on yourself to complete the project in three months, even if you’re getting pressure from beneficiaries to get them their shares of the estate. There will be times of greater activity, but for the most part you should be able to come up with a plan that allows you to spread the work into manageable pieces over time.
7. Learn what you can before the person passes away, if possible.
If you know you’re going to be named executor, it can be very helpful to sit down and talk to the person and learn some basics about their estate plan. You can ask where the will is kept; you can also ask them to keep an updated list of financial assets, important account numbers, and passwords so you’ll have those later. You can find out whether they have funeral plans and whether they work with an accountant, estate attorney, financial planner, or other related professionals. Yes, it can be tough to broach the subject in the first place—to imagine a time when someone who has named you executor will no longer be alive. But both you and they will likely feel better knowing that their wishes will be followed and that you’re armed with the information you need.
No matter how much you prepare or stay organized, being an executor will at times add stress to your life. But these seven tips can help reduce that stress and make the process less overwhelming.
Have a question about executorship? Get an answer by sending an email to [email protected].
Patrick O’Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The free tools include a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.