Liza Connelly

Fiduciary Advisor at CIBC Private Wealth

Liza Connelly is the director of trust and estate services for CIBC Private Wealth, with more than 25 years of industry experience. In this role, she manages a team of regional fiduciary advisors, trust advisors and estate settlement advisors who provide fiduciary expertise, estate settlement and trust administration support, including trust review and acceptance, trust modifications, post-death and ongoing trust administration matters, and review of other discretionary matters. Additionally, she is the chair of the firm’s fiduciary discretionary committees and provides other fiduciary middle office support for both CIBC National Trust Company and CIBC Delaware Trust Company.​

Ten Tips for an Executor

Serving as the executor of a family member’s estate has its challenges. Even if you know you are named in the will and have talked about it with the family member ahead of time, it can still be overwhelming.

Below are 10 tips that may be helpful for those who serve as executor for a family member.

    1. Death, be not proud: This will be tough and emotionally draining. As easy and trite as it sounds, try to give yourself time off from work and from your new part-time job of settling your loved one’s estate. Throughout the process, take breaks to do whatever helps you feel more grounded.
    2. Out of state, out of mind: If your family member lives in another state, the probate rules may differ from those in your own state, so be prepared for unexpected timelines and nuances. It is crucial to hire a local attorney to assist with estate administration, as the attorney will know the state rules, tax filing requirements and probate.
    3. Take it easy: For most people, the estate administration process is new and the terminology can be foreign. Be prepared to ask questions of your advisors and to pass on that information to your family members in the simplest terms.
    4. Divide to conquer: Your family members may have strong feelings regarding the tangible personal property of the deceased family member. If two people want the same item, and the will doesn’t direct how to distribute it, one option may be to draw numbers from a hat or toss a coin. When in doubt or if disagreements still prevail, ask the attorney who is handling the estate administration for advice on moving forward.
    5. Everyone needs a team captain and cheerleader: The executor is generally tasked with cleaning out the deceased’s residence, and this may have to happen on a compressed time frame if the residence is being sold or the deceased lived in an assisted living facility. This is a great opportunity to bring in other family members to help. You can all feel you are doing this together, and having more hands makes the process go more quickly.
    6. Expect the unexpected: Sometimes, family members may not want the items that the deceased left them. If you face this challenge, get creative. See if you can try to review the tangibles early on and think about items that may not be wanted or might be hard to donate.
    7. Bring out your inner event planner: For anyone who has planned a large event, you are familiar with all the details that go in to making the big day special. Memorial services and funerals can have many of the same planning requirements, especially if there is a reception after the service. Plan to work with caterers, florists, the place of worship and other service providers to help with the service and/or reception honoring the deceased.
    8. Patience is a virtue: Generally, estate administration takes at least a year, often two or three years for more complex estates. Mentally prepare. Even when you know the deadlines, it’s another thing to have to do the work and know that this is your responsibility for however long it may take.
    9. Family dynamics versus fiduciary duty: You may want to ask for your family members’ opinions on certain issues or decisions to help them feel included and involved. The opinions of others may be welcome, but you have the fiduciary responsibility to handle details such as tax reporting, tracking expenses, and monitoring any assets flowing into the estate. At the end of the day, you have the final vote—no overrides from others, no filibusters.
    10. Take the long view: Remember that your relationships that remain are with the living. It will be an exercise in diplomacy. Explain again to anyone who is lost, confused, or unclear what the legal terms mean and why they matter. Make sure your family members feel that what they’ve received follows the wishes of the deceased and that there is no favoritism on your part. Hurt feelings and perceived slights will do more damage than any dollar value of items received or not received.

Finally, remember the departed, share stories, hug those in tears, be kind to those struggling with the loss, and allow yourself time to exhale as you work through this role. And hire a lawyer for estate administration and the tax returns.

For more information on estate administration and the steps involved, visit the CIBC Administration of Estates resource page.

1- This was adapted from a blog written by Liza Connelly, Fiduciary Advisor at CIBC Private Wealth, about her experience as the executrix for her mother’s estate. You can find the original blog here: Ten tips from an executrix.

CIBC Private Wealth Management includes CIBC National Trust Company (a limited-purpose national trust company), CIBC Delaware Trust Company (a Delaware limited-purpose trust company), CIBC Private Wealth Advisors, Inc. (a registered investment adviser)—all of which are wholly owned subsidiaries of CIBC Private Wealth Group, LLC—and the private banking division of CIBC Bank USA. All of these entities are wholly owned subsidiaries of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

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