10 Duties an Executor of a Will Needs to Take to Help with Funerals, The Family, The Wills and Probate.
My partner just passed away – What do I do?
This is a difficult time for you and your family and it’s important that you make good decisions even during the time that you are grieving. If you click here you can download a document that will assist you to navigate your way through getting organised.
I will provide an example of a real client for your benefit to understand what people normally need.
Recently we were approached by a gentleman (our client) was sadly given 7-10 days left to live, he called us, knowing he would no longer be able to manage the family’s financial affairs. We were asked to assist his wife and children in organising his financial and personal affairs to ensure that his wife and children would be well looked after, after he moved on. Our client was a sophisticated successful business man, his first question was around the cost of services. If you`ve not organised your family’s financial affairs before make sure that you understand how much are your professional partners are going to cost to assist in organising your family’s financial matters.
Everyone’s financial affairs are different and it is likely to be most cost effective to use a service provider that works on a time cost basis for services. Ask for a cost estimate and what you’ll be provided for that cost before work begins on helping you to reorganize your affairs. You will find that family members and friends and trusted partners will do a lot of the leg work for you but ultimately you are the person responsible for making the final decisions.
Below are the list of the ten most important matters that the executor of will needs to organize in the near term.
1. Organize the funeral.
The funeral service providers in your area will give a great deal of assistance. They will provide you with simple questionnaires and a lot of support. You need to meet with the funeral director and this person will become a coordinator of the preparation of a death certificate and also the services that you need to facilitate like a church service, memorial service, the wake and documentation that needs to be prepared for the government. The death certificate is an important document that will be required by you in many of the items listed below to allow you to organize your financial and personal affairs correctly.
2. Organising your support team.
We are financial planners and when we are asked to assist spouses or executors it normally involves opening discussions with you, a lawyer who maybe holding the will and often an accountant. Some of our team hold degrees in both accounting and planning.
Our client had lawyers redrafting wills, an accountant organizing tax returns and he was the executive chairman of a listed company in Australia.
He asked to assist his wife and children in understanding the will before he passed away and then to assist the executors after he passed away.
We facilitated bringing together company, trust, superannuation, life insurances, tax returns, cash flow management for the family (to make sure they had a comfortable income stream), the completion of termination of employment contracts and the payment of final benefits. After he passed away we claimed on insurance policies, completed tax returns, organized to clear loans, create trusts with the lawyers for children create a financial plan, tax planning and investment strategies to his spouse.
If you have professionals or family friend that are professionals, they may be able to assist you but ultimately you may need one primary person who can assist you, the accountants, lawyers, bankers and finance providers in coordinating your family’s affairs. In all areas of life there are experts who you can engage to provide solutions in areas where you may not have expertise. This is what we do.
3. Contact your spouse’s employer (if they were employed).
If your spouse was employed they may have an employment contract and possibly insurances and superannuation sponsored by the employer. In our experience, you may need to organise for the winding up of your spouse’s employment and organize the distribution of final termination payments along with the distributions of superannuation lump sums or pensions. Each super fund is a little different and compliance with the super fund trust deed and instructions regarding beneficiary nominations need to be considered.
4. File for life insurance claims.
If your spouse had any life insurance plan, total and permanent disablement insurance, trauma insurance (some times called critical illness insurance) or income protection insurance policies, you need to collect this together and then make claims on the insurance policies to receive a benefit.
Our client had several insurance policies and we prepared the claim documentation and facilitated the transfer of assets to the correct beneficiaries.
Insurance companies will ask you to provide the death certificate and may also ask for a copy of the will to ensure compliance with your spouse’s instructions.
5. Contact the banks and any other financial institution.
Making sure that your cash flows continues is important. This will allow you to continue to pay any bills, mortgages, short term expenses that may be incurred. To do this you need to collect the information around your family’s investments, bank accounts and other assets. Make sure you understand who owns the different bank accounts, investment portfolios, properties and superannuation policies. Once this information’s is collected it is important to organise the change of beneficial ownership of the different accounts in
line with your needs, the will and also the terms and conditions of different policies or investments (like superannuation funds where there may be nominated pension beneficiaries and or lump sum beneficiaries).
The most important thing in the near term is to make sure you have money to pay for living expenses, items like funeral expenses and other one-off items that pop up. The banks and financial institutions have departments that specialise in estate matters.
We went to the bank with our client’s spouse after he passed away and we walked through each of the different banks accounts for the family personally, the company, the self managed super fund, the trust and the share trading accounts. We also provided evidence of the deceased, prepared letters for the client’s spouse to sign to comply with bank requirements and we change the beneficial ownership of bank accounts, created access (online) to the correct bank accounts so that the spouse could log in using their telephone and computers, creating visibility to make sure the financial affairs were in order. We also established with the accountant a trust tax file number and then opened up an estate bank account to assist in the beginning of the estate planning process.
6. Applying for government benefits.
If you are financially strained it is worthwhile approaching centerlink and disclosing to them your current position. When your partner passes away, centerlinks assessment of your financial affairs change based on your categorization with them . You are widowed and theoretically a single person whereas in the past you may have been categorised as a couple on centerlink system. They will assess your situation and determine whether you are entitled to a benefit based on your new circumstances.
7. Organize your cash flow.
Before our client passed away, his spouse was scared and nervous about how she would survive financially. To solve this matter we modelled the families financial position and showed the spouse what amount of money she would have to live on in the future. We modelled how the lump sum and income stream benefits from life insurance payments, superannuation payments, employer payments and other family money would fall into place based on the will. We modelled how loans
would be paid off, how much money would be held in a bank account for emergencies, how to invest (or keep existing investments including property) so that she had a regular income stream week. We worked out her daily living expenses and made sure her weekly income stream was more than enough to cover expenses. At the end of this exercise there was a feeling of great relief for her because she understood that she would be financially secure in the future. Getting to this point is very important for you, it will create peace of mind with regard to your financial affairs.
To do this well may involve optimizing where your assets are held, the tax structure you use in future and how the estates assets need to be managed and often involves advice from an accountant.
If the will makes provision for assets to be held in trust for beneficiaries this also needs to be organized correctly. For our client, money was required to be held in trust for children and invested until they turned a particular age, if this is the case you may be responsible for assisting in building that investment and asset management strategy.
8. Revision of wills and power of attorney.
Assuming there is a will and that you are an executor of will, it is important for you to organize for the estate of your partner to be settled. Your personal affairs will have materially changed because your partner, who may have been your nominated beneficiary has passed away. This means that your will may need to be reviewed along with your powers of attorney. This is usually completed with the assistance of a lawyer. There are different levels of expertise in the legal fraternity with regards to wills and choosing a lawyer with an appropriate level of experience and expertise is important.
9. Ask for help.
Family and friends will be very supportive of you during this emotionally trying time. Use professionals to assist you in areas where you don’t feel confident. If you need help or want to talk, feel free to pick up the phone and call us. We’ll do what we can to help you and won’t charge you to take your call. We can help you, liaise with your professional partners or point you in the direction of people who can help if your help request falls outside of our areas of expertise.
10. Get to a point where you have financial stability.
At the end of this difficult process you need to be able to look in the mirror and know that financially your OK, that you can live comfortably and that your financial affairs are in order.
I hope this information helps you to move forward with a broad plan for the steps you need to take to get to the next stepping stone in your life.
RFE Group has grown through referral from existing clients and accounting partner practices. The clients referred to RFE Group generally have complex financial affairs that require the support of a collaborative network of professionals. We work with you to solve the matters we have touched on in this article. Our traditional clients are semi affluent and affluent delegators who want to know what, why and when things need to happen but prefer to engage experts to do this work on their behalf.