Dear Quentin, My 67-year-old longtime friend is retired, owns his small home and has a small retirement income. He asked a trustworthy nephew to be his executor, and the nephew agreed. However, it has been over two years and this nephew has yet to make time to meet to sign papers, get keys, etc.
There are no other living relatives. I asked my friend if they could accomplish all of this electronically and he seemed resistant to that idea, although I’m not sure if it would even be possible. I am concerned because it’s a real source of stress for him.
They live four hours apart. What kind of alternative might there be for someone in this situation?
Dear Concerned, Your friend needs someone who is more than trustworthy. He needs someone reliable, responsible and, ideally, impartial. Just because this nephew is your friend’s only living relative that does not mean he should be the executor of his estate. In this case, it sounds like a bad idea.
An executor has a fiduciary duty to act in your friend’s best interests, and is required to produce a death certificate, an inventory of the assets, cash flows, expenses, sales and other tax documents. It’s a lot of work. If not handled properly, the executor could even be sued.
Upon his death, your friend’s executor would need to spend a great deal of time collecting documents and managing any real estate and, for instance, may have to make decisions on the sale of the house and whether it needs renovations prior to sale. He can leave house keys with an attorney and a spare set with you.
Here’s a sobering thought: It takes an average of 16 months to settle an estate and approximately 570 hours of work, according to a survey by the software company EstateExec. Debts and conflict among any beneficiaries can also complicate matters. It’s not a job for the faint of heart.
If your friend has a sizable estate and/or no other living relatives, he should make a will before he does anything else, and perhaps look into the possibility of hiring a professional executor. He can also have more than one executor, if he is concerned about the reliability of one.
A professional executor may be a smart choice if there are no family members living close by, your friend has a complex estate, and/or he wants to ease the burden on relatives at a difficult time, among many other reasons, according to RBC Wealth Management.
In the meantime, your friend may wish to think about a durable power of attorney — authorizing a trusted person to make personal, business and legal decisions in the event he becomes incapable of doing these things himself. These can also cover medical issues such as end-of-life decisions.
The same principles for choosing a power of attorney apply here too: Your friend wants to appoint someone he can trust and who will carry out his wishes. That could be a trusted attorney; a priest, minister or rabbi; a close neighbor or friend; or, yes, even a good friend like you.
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