Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Right Stuff

Ask The CFP® Practitioner

Definition: noun, personal attributes or character traits considered necessary to succeed or do something well. Usage: A person with the right stuff will do well here.                                                 ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Question: The individual named as my power of attorney and executor passed away. What should I think about when choosing someone else to fill this role?

Answer: First, I’m very sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, times like these tend to raise awareness and highlight all the responsibilities placed upon an executor, also referred to as a personal representative.

To whom much is given, much is expected. When someone holds us in high enough regard to handle their affairs it is an honor. Taking on these roles also a serious responsibility that could include potential liability issues if duties aren’t carried out properly. For instance, an executor can be held personally liable for improperly spending estate or trust assets or for allowing insurance coverage on the assets to lapse. Choosing the right person(s) or entity depends on the complexity of your situation.

Trust is at the top of the list when determining how your affairs will be handled. “If in doubt, don’t,” is a favorite phrase when it comes to decision making. It’s a big responsibility to handle someone’s affairs and legacy. To the best of your ability, identify an entity or individual who will respect and carry out your wishes with honesty and professionalism.

The role of executor is a major time commitment requiring willingness and the ability to manage the duties and avoid the inherent liabilities of the position. For example, paying bills and filing tax returns on time are two tasks that must be completed in a timely manner. It used to be easy, just check the mailbox for bills, but now, so much of our lives are digitally maintained. No details should be overlooked.

Another wrinkle is the prevalence of blended families. According to Pew Research, only 46% of children younger than 18 are living with two parents in their first marriage; that number was 6`% in 1980. Approximately 44% of those aged 18-29 have step siblings. The ability to remain impartial and keep biases out of the way will be imperative. If the beneficiaries of your estate believe that your executor has ulterior motives and don’t consider them a neutral party, it can cause unnecessary tensions and legal battles.

Set yourself and your executor up for success by establishing realistic expectations. Meet with the person you select and explain why you made your choice, outline the level of commitment involved and give them time to decide if they have the right stuff for the job. You’ll also want to have a contingency plan in place if something were to happen to your first choice, or if they aren’t able to accept your request.

Once the decision is made, providing access to online bill-pay programs, credit cards and social media sites will be a consideration. Providing access to these digital resources is crucial to fulfilling the duties of an executor. Without the right passwords or credentials it is beyond challenging to access information. For instance, Google may provide the contents of a deceased user’s account if the family produces proof of death, but Yahoo accounts require a court order to access accounts without a password. To help prevent unnecessary headaches, you’ll want to provide your executor with the proper digital access. Fortunately, you have different options for how to store and share your information securely, such as with the help of an online tools that we’re happy to share with you.

The ideal executor will possess diplomatic skills and technical sophistication.

Hopefully, that person is readily available, on speed dial and willing to take on this responsibility. If not, there are several ways to help ensure that your wishes will be carried out honestly and professionally.

A corporate personal representative might be an appropriate choice if you’re looking for impartiality and expertise. For instance, a corporate executor can offer their guidance and experience to help ensure assets are distributed according to your wishes, reduce unnecessary expenses, and achieve the most efficient and accurate settlement of your estate with the lowest costs possible. Another option is to appoint both a corporation and an individual to serve as co-executors, or name a corporation as agent for the personal representative, offering an assist to this important role.

Being named a personal representative is an honor, but there’s a reason that it’s often a paid position: It’s a job unto itself. If you want to choose the best fit for the role, it’s important to understand the realities of the position and know what steps you can take to help ensure your estate ends up in the right hands. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your trusted financial team, including your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner when making this essential decision. Stay focused and plan accordingly.

Raymond James and its advisors do not offer legal advice. You should discuss any legal matters with the appropriate professional. All investments are subject to risk. The opinions expressed are those of the writer, but not necessarily those of Raymond James and Associates, and subject to change at any time.

“Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.”

This article provided by Darcie Guerin, CFP®, Vice President, Investments & Branch Manager of Raymond James & Associates, Inc. Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 606 Bald Eagle Dr. Suite 401, Marco Island, FL 34145. She may be reached at 239-389-1041, email Website:

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