Recently I found myself in a conversation with a friend. He is the oldest of four, and his father asked him to be the executor for his estate after his parents died.  Without hesitation, my friend agreed to the request.  Unfortunately, their conversation quickly returned to the previous topic without further discussion, leaving my friend with a mess of confusion.  He tried to sort it out with me, but I had no answers.  I did, however, leave him with a list of questions to ask his dad at the earliest opportunity.

What are the expectations?

When someone creates a will, they become known as a testator.  The primary role of an executor is to settle the estate of the testator.  He will arrange to pay outstanding debts and taxes.  What remains must end up in the hands of those stipulated in the will.  That process can take many forms depending upon the situation.  Some may wish their executor to conduct specific duties in a particular manner, using certain professionals and advisors.  Others may not care how the executor carries out his responsibilities.  After all, it is no longer their problem.  In that case, identify resources to help educate you on the executor role and associated duties.

Request a copy of the will

After you agree to be an executor, request a copy of the will.  Reviewing the document offers a better understanding of the project.  Should the beneficiaries or the distribution of assets differ from expectations, better to discover that before the testator dies.  Allowing time to consider and discuss any unusual circumstances or requests offers a greater chance of success and lessens the odds of any frustration by the executor or hurt feelings by any beneficiary.

Ask about an asset listing

It is the responsibility of the executor to locate all assets of the estate for distribution.  Ask for an asset listing now.  Unless your parents are very organized, you will have questions that need answers.  Better to pursue these answers while your parents are here to help, rather than on your own.  The alternative is to create your list by paying fees to the accountant or lawyer to gather information in addition to offering advice, rummaging through financial statements and legal documents in filing cabinets, or curating mail as it slowly arrives.

Ask about burial and funeral preferences

This last question is open for any adult child to ask, not just executors.  The degree of feelings about burial and funeral preferences varies.  One person may request a quiet graveside remembrance, while another may want a celebration of life.  Discuss these wishes with your parents.  I recall the strange look I gave my Mom after she told me that she and a friend had recently spent the day together and purchased their funeral plots. I realized when she passed away the gift she gave our family, having taken away a decision like that.  She made sure she got just what she wanted.

Ask your parents if they intend to donate any organs and tissues upon their death.  There is no age limit to donation or to signing up.  People in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and older have donated and received organs successfully.

Discussing these matters well in advance can help keep an emotionally challenging time from turning even more difficult.