/ Guest Post

Conversation Tips for Clients and their Executors

With a new year comes new resolutions, goals, and organization plans. As a result, estate planning tends to get a boost of popularity at this time of year due to the by-product of a new year with unique possibilities.

When clients want to begin working on estate planning, it is easy to get excited, because after all, it can be challenging to get someone wanting to discuss the topic with us in the first place! However, while crafting an estate plan for our clients, one thing we should keep in mind is the types of conversations they should have with the person they will be naming as their executor.

In my experience when working with executors in providing support in estate administration, we hear a lot of "I wish I was told……" or "I wish I knew….." which means clients are not having these conversations with their appointed executors.

Over the years, we have tried to find unusual and unique ways to encourage better communication, and meaningful conversations between testators and executors, and below are our favorite tips.

1.       When meeting with clients for estate planning, share a story about an estate that went horribly sideways due to lack of communication.  We are all human, which means we like to be entertained by dramatic stories.  I find estate stories about the rich and famous seem to capture attention and make it memorable enough for the client to share again, prompting an opening for further conversations.

2.       Ask the client to write up a job description for their future executor. Once the job description is created, review it with them to ensure that the person they have chosen fits all of the requirements and encourage that they share this job description with the person they are considering naming.  Reviewing the executor's title as a job opening will prompt both the testator and executor to understand the seriousness of the role and open up the conversation between them.

3.       Play the "guesswork game"-the rules are simple:  Ask your client not to respond to any of the questions you will ask them.  Then advise them that you will ask questions as their future executor…but again, the rules are that they cannot answer.  Proceed to ask them questions such as; where they bank, online profiles, crypto info, funeral wishes, who gets the teacups, and they will realize how important these discussions are to have now.

These conversation prompts are not exhaustive, but maybe with some luck and willing clients, we will see estate administration become a normalized topic between testators, executors and the professionals assisting them.

Written by Debbie Stanley, Senior Estate Administrator, ETP Canada Inc.