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How to open a conversation with your executor about your end-of-life wishes

ETP Canada CEO Debbie Stanley cautions that not having the conversation now could cost significantly more after a loved one has passed

Death is often a taboo topic that most people avoid discussing because it’s uncomfortable, emotional, and for some people. terrifying. Debbie Stanley is CEO and Senior Estate Administrator of ETP Canada, a firm that helps families ease the burden of administering an estate after the death of a loved one.

Stanley says, “The most significant problem following the death of a loved one is that there have been no conversations between the person who passed away and their chosen executor. It makes it much more difficult for the designated executor if they have been blindsided by the news.”

Putting off conversations about end-of-life wishes can lead to confusion, disputes, and unfulfilled desires when the inevitable occurs. Stanley adds, “Having an open and honest discussion with your executor and loved ones about your end-of-life wishes will ensure that your preferences are respected, and that they are not burdened during an already difficult time.”

By not having the difficult conversation, it leaves others to fill in the gaps with their own storyline.

Ask if they want to be executor

When planning and meeting with lawyers to have your will drafted and before you put a designated executor’s name in ink on paper, have a conversation with them to let them know that you are considering them to be your executor and ask if they are interested in taking on that responsibility.

Let them know what they can expect to be doing. Stanley stresses, “Being an executor is much more than organizing a funeral, filing tax returns, emptying out a home, and selling a property. Ask them if this is something that they are comfortable with taking on.” A conversation offers that person an opportunity to say, let’s have a deeper discussion about the role or they might say this is something that they would rather not do.

Designating an executor

It may be difficult, but when selecting an executor try to remove emotion from your own death. Debbie Stanley’s advice is, “Approach it as if you’re hiring for a job position, because it is a job. If someone is going to wrap up your entire life, ask yourself what you need from them? What kind of skills do they need? What comfort levels do they need with professionals? Who is that person for me?

Don’t feel obligated to choose an executor because they are your eldest child or your oldest friend. This is not the time to feel compelled to pick a certain person as an executor. It’s important to select the right person for the job. Stanley says, “We’re doing ourselves a disservice by not being able to step back and say what do I need from this person?”

Some emotional skills and physical requirements for the executor role:

  • Someone who is level-headed and will not be caught up in the drama. Estate administration can become dramatic, especially if there is some miscommunication or if beneficiaries don’t get along.
  • An executor is not meant to pick sides. They are supposed to be neutral.
  • Executors should not be afraid to ask questions because most people do not have the prior experience or education to be an executor.

Information executors need to know

Executors need to know more about the person who has asked them to take on that responsibility and Debbie Stanley suggests one way to do that is by playing a game.

Have family members ask a series of questions such as,

  • Where do you bank?
  • Who are your beneficiaries?
  • Who is your lawyer?
  • Where’s the will?
  • Who is your cable provider?
  • Who is your veterinarian?
  • Where is the spare key to the house?

But Stanley says, “Don’t answer any questions, because if you had passed on, you wouldn’t be able to answer those questions. It seems like a silly exercise, but when you’re aware of the queries that need answers, you realize there are many things you should be telling your executor and your loved ones. Go home and play that game, it can be quite revealing.”

When you’ve completed the exercise, you can provide the answers. It gives you some perspective.

A conversation with loved ones

Debbie Stanley has some advice for family members. Don’t avoid the dreaded discussion around the death of a parent. “When your parents approach you to discuss their death, please don’t put them off and say you don’t want to talk about it. It’s difficult for the parent who has worked up the courage to talk about their own death to be dismissed because of your fears. Please don’t shut down the conversation.”

The parent should also be prepared with power of attorney documents which clarify their wishes if they can’t make decisions on their own. Stanley says, “You should not only talk to your executor but also to those named as your power of attorney. In my experience, medical discussions are not being had and often there’s a lot of guilt among family members because they did not have that conversation before their loved one’s passing.”

If you’re stuck on how to get the conversation going, there are many stories in the news about celebrities passing. If there is no event in your own life that can spark a conversation, these high-profile celebrity stories can be icebreakers.

Your beneficiaries could receive less

The pitfalls of not having a conversation about your loved one’s wishes are time delays. The executor may be having trouble finding crucial information, such as where did you bank and who are your beneficiaries.

Instead of taking weeks, the search for information could take months. Debbie Stanley says, “Time delays extend into financial delays. The longer it takes for an executor to administer a will, the more it costs. For example, mortgage payments must be paid on a house that can’t yet be sold. In the end, the beneficiaries, the people you want to receive the money, get less.”

ETP Canada’s Offers Executor’s Support

For those who have accepted the invitation to be an executor or individuals who would like to know more about the role, ETP Canada offers an engaging, easy-to-follow crash course called “Executor Ready,” which is designed to help executors in Canada save time and avoid costly mistakes when settling an estate. It’s a 10-module course packed with insights and information to help you handle the executor role with success. Debbie Stanley says, “We’ve identified the gaps between conversations, and we’ve created “Executor Ready” for those who are planning to select their power of attorney or executor. They could gift the course to that person so they can learn the terminology and receive some valuable tips.”

Debbie Stanley adds, “Don’t wait until the day comes and then try to figure it out. Education is important. Executor Ready is a friendly, guided way to provide the basic knowledge of the executor role and what to expect.”

For those who would like a professional to guide them through the executor role, ETP Canada offers “Executor Support.” Their experienced professionals will be there so that you never feel alone throughout the estate administration process. Debbie Stanley’s advice, “Make sure your executor is fully supported because it’s one of the hardest jobs they will ever have in their life.”

If you have been designated an executor or considering appointing an executor and feel that you need guidance and support contact the estate administration professionals at ETP Canada at (866) 309-0387 Email: [email protected] or visit them online.