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Executors and Estates

What is an executor?

An executor is the person designated in a will or appointed by a court to be responsible for taking care of, or following through on, a deceased person's remaining financial obligations. This can include everything from distributing funds to beneficiaries, paying outstanding debts and bills, to paying taxes and disposing of property.

Often, executors are immediate family members or friends, someone that you trust. However, if no executor is identified, a probate court may select someone to serve as an executor or an administrator to the estate. There are laws in each state which determine how an executor is paid for their duties. Often, it is a matter determined by the probate court.

What is an administrator?

An administrator is someone appointed by the court, due to the absence of a will or the absence of a named executor in a will. The duties of an administrator mirror those of an executor. However, an administrator must apply to the Court for a grant of Letters of Administration. This document obliges parties who possess certain assets of the estate to transfer possession to the administrator.

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan is a collection of legal documents that outlines how you would like your assets to be handled upon death.

Why is estate planning important?

A well-planned estate will ensure your final wishes are honored. Planning ahead can spare your loved ones upwards of a year of administrative frustration. It can also prevent identity theft of the deceased. Careful planning may also minimize taxes and probate fees, reducing the burden on your loved ones.

What is a Will, and do I need one?

A will is a legal document that outlines your final wishes for your assets, finances, and belongings including how and by whom your dependent children will be taken of. It details who will receive important assets in your estate.

Having a will is perhaps one of the most important legal documents of our lifetime. A will helps your family avoid the need to make big decisions during a time when they’ll be grieving.

You can read more about wills in our advice center.

Isn’t a will enough?

Without a doubt, a will is a good place to start and a very important document in the planning process. However, it may not be enough to detail final wishes and to adequately distribute assets. A will does not include instructions on end-of-life ceremony decisions or other final wishes that do not include assets. Also, other important estate planning documents may be needed depending on your situation, like an advanced directive, power of attorney, or trust.

This helpful Getting Organized guide can help you explore all the important decisions and plans you should consider.

I was made an executor. Where do I start?

Acting as an executor is an honorable role, but not an easy one.

An executor is responsible for distributing and managing the assets of the deceased’s estate – including property, portfolios, and tax documents. A good place to start when taking over someone’s finances is by contacting their primary bank and providing them with the power of attorney. The bank account will give you important insight into any pensions or benefits.

Making funeral arrangements, searching for a will, and meeting with an estate lawyer are also priority tasks.

Acting as an executor can be difficult and time consuming, but someone has to do it. Be sure to understand what you are getting into when you agree to it. It’s important to take care of yourself during the executor process, as it can be stressful. Because we know how challenging this role can be, we have pulled together tools to help guide you through this process, including valuable assistance. You can access these tips and tools and learn more about the support options you have by visiting here.

What is deceased identity theft (ghosting)?

Criminals are now obtaining and using a deceased person’s personal data as identity theft and identity fraud for financial gain. According to AARP, the identities of almost 2.5 million deceased Americans are used every year to open fraudulent accounts and services, something that can lead to frustrating complications and delays in the settlement of an estate. This form of identity theft is called ghosting because it can take several months for financial institutions to register death records, so the criminals take advantage of this lead time.

How can I prevent deceased identity theft (ghosting)?

Fraudulent use of the identity of the deceased is very costly and it can take years to correct identity theft once initiated. It is virtually impossible to settle an estate until the fraudulent lines of credit are shut down and the charges cleared.

Identity theft of the deceased can be prevented by having a well-planned and well-managed estate. It can also be prevented by sending death certificates securely to credit reporting bureaus and financial institutions. A death should also be reported to Social Security, and driver’s licenses cancelled as soon as possible. Loved ones should also avoid sharing too many personal identifiers like maiden names or birth dates in obituaries.

This helpful article can help you prevent this crime from happening to your or your loved ones.

Funeral Planning

What is the difference between a memorial service, a funeral service, and a celebration of life?

Though all three honor the memory of the loved one that has passed away, there are some distinct and subtle differences.

A funeral service occurs with the body or cremated remains of the deceased displayed. Typically, a funeral also includes a visitation or wake so mourners can pay respects before the service.

A memorial is similar to a funeral service, except the body or cremated remains are not present. In these cases, a burial may have occurred prior to the actual memorial service. Because the body is not present, memorial services provide more flexibility in scheduling so they may be held weeks or months after the actual disposition of the body occurs.

A celebration of life is generally more casual and less structured. A celebration of life is an opportunity for loved ones and guests to share special memories about the deceased. This type of ceremony is often more of a party atmosphere and may be a little less rooted in tradition, although it could include elements of a traditional funeral. During this ceremony, the cremated remains or pictures of the deceased may be shown.

Can a funeral be personalized?

Absolutely! A funeral can be personalized in an endless amount of ways.

Whether the ceremony is elaborate or simple, people most often want their funeral to be individualized to reflect their unique life lived. You can add subtle or noticeable personal touches in a wide variety of ways to ensure your funeral service accurately represents your personality and values. Some of the ways a funeral can be personalized include smaller touches like the choice of music, photos, mementos or keepsakes, decorations, and catering. You can also customize larger elements of the entire ceremony, including the tone and location. For example, some people prefer smaller, more minimalistic outdoor ceremonies, while some people prefer more festive celebration of life parties. You can even incorporate your passions and favorite hobbies.

You can take this fun quiz to learn more about the type of celebration that might be most suitable for you!

What is the difference between a funeral and a burial?

A funeral is the ceremony used to honor someone’s life and a burial is the ritual act of placing the remains of the deceased in their final resting place.

How much does an average funeral cost?

The average cost of a funeral today costs between $8,000-$10,000 US. A very simple memorial service can cost between $5,000-$7,000 US. This does not include cemetery costs. The exact price will depend on what you include in your service and decisions about visitations. Also, many people today plan for additional expenses as part of their end-of-life planning. These additional expenses would cover costs associated with special celebrations or travel of loved ones to a ceremony location that is special to the deceased.

How much does an average cremation cost?

A direct cremation (with no funeral service) can cost anywhere between $2,500 to $4,500 US. If you would like to have a funeral with the casket present, you can expect to add $3,000 to $6,000 to the cost.

How much does an average casket cost?

An average quality casket is in the range of $3,000 to $4,000 US.

How much does a burial plot cost?

The cost of a burial plot can start at $1,000 US for a simple cremation burial in a niche or ground space. It’s important to keep in mind that this cost is for the land space only, and does not include costs like interment, the memorial, the outer burial container, or recording fees.

Costs of traditional all-included burial plots often exceed $5,000 US.

Do I need to pre-pay for my planned funeral?

No – you don’t have to pre-pay for your planned funeral. Preplanning ensures that every detail is taken care of the way you’d wish. However, pre-paying for your planned funeral can offer your loved ones even greater peace of mind. There are even some funeral homes that will lock-in the cost of the services you choose now, saving you money and so that your loved ones are not unprepared when the time comes.

Even if you don’t pre-pay for your funeral, planning it in advance is a huge step that benefits your loved ones and spares them from tough decisions.

Doesn’t my life insurance cover funeral costs?

Life insurance is typically a lump sum policy designed to cover any remaining costs for the deceased, including any outstanding debts and bills. It is also designed to help cover day-to-day expenses of your loved ones. If there are any remaining amounts leftover, these funds can be used to cover funeral expenses. For this reason, there are specific funeral and burial insurance options offered to ensure funeral cost are covered. Also, the process for claiming on life insurance can be more involved, which can mean a delay in the availability of any funds, which can cause financial stress for those left behind as they plan any final celebrations.

Importance of Planning Ahead

Why do I need to plan for end-of-life?

Planning ahead is not just about final celebrations. There are many important details that should be considered to ensure that you have well documented your final wishes. Doing so helps ease the burdens on our loved ones that can come along with the end of our lives and planning ahead can spare them from having to make difficult decisions during a challenging time. There’s significant relief and peace of mind for everyone knowing that planning is complete.

It’s also smarter to get end-of-life planning done in advance. It leaves less guess work and allows you to memorialize life the way you lived it – on your terms. Life’s different stages, such as getting married, starting a family, or preparing for retirement, can be ideal reasons to get your affairs in order. Really, it’s always the right time to plan ahead.

We are here to help you prepare in advance for the later stages of life. Get started today with this simple checklist to help you get organized.

I don’t care what happens after I die. Why should I care about planning?

Many people don’t really care about what happens after they die– after all, they won’t be around to see what happens! However, their loved ones and family are.

As you look around the site, you may discover there are many decisions about end-of-life that need to be made, and you are likely to have specific opinions about some of them.

Planning ahead is about making sure your loved ones know you care enough to relieve this burden from them. It is about having those important conversations with those you know can carry out your wishes.

You can find helpful tools and guides to explore on our site.

What if I plan now, but change my end-of-life preferences in the future?

It’s normal for your end-of-life wishes to evolve over time. What’s great about digital planning is that you can update your plans at any time, from any location. They should be updated regularly, especially after important life changes. It’s a great idea to review your planning decisions regularly.

Do I still need a lawyer if I use these planning services?

Our digital planning services do not take the place of seeking sound legal counsel. In fact, we encourage you to take legal counsel.

We understand that laws pertaining to estate planning, executors, and powers of attorney can all vary by geography. We encourage you to seek the legal resources that best meet your needs.

What if I’ve already done some of my planning?

Any pre-planning you’ve already done still matters. It’s a great foundation!

The comprehensive information we provide will ensure nothing gets missed and every step is covered. Our services can complement any planning you’ve already done and ensure your plans are complete. We meet you at whatever stage of planning you're in!

What if I’ve already completed my planning on paper?

That’s a great accomplishment! Congratulations on getting your plan on paper.

What’s also important about end-of-life planning is that your loved ones can access or find your paperwork when they need it. That’s why complementing your paper plans with digital versions is a smart idea. Digital planning provides a one-stop resource for all your final wishes that should be shared with your loved ones. Also, creating your digital plans may be a great reason to review past decisions that may need to be updated.

How can my loved ones access my final wishes when I die?

It is very important that all your planning and documentation be in one secure place that your loved ones can access.

Many of our tools can be downloaded and saved with your other important files. This also helps you to have important conversations about the later chapters of your life with your loved ones - including sharing any planning decisions you have made. If your wishes aren’t shared with your loved ones, any planning in advance may not matter and they may still be forced to make difficult choices on your behalf that may not align with your wishes after you have passed.

You can find all our tools and guides at your fingertips on our site.

How can I make sure my loved ones understand what I want?

The best way to make sure your loved ones know your final wishes is to have a conversation with them. Loved ones should be included in the conversation early when it comes to important final decisions. It’s best to tell all of your close family - including spouses, adult children, parents and siblings - so no one feels left out or surprised when the time comes.

In addition to having these conversations, you need to document your wishes and make sure your loved ones know how to access them when the time comes.

Remember, pre-planning your end-of-life arrangements is a fantastic first step in gaining peace of mind that your family is protected from difficult decisions. But this only helps when your plans are shared with them.

If you are looking for some tips to help guide that conversation, you can find them here.

I would like my loved one to do some end-of-life planning, but they are uncomfortable with it. How can I help?

We know that having end-of-life conversations can be uncomfortable – but they are necessary. One of the most effective ways to encourage someone to plan is to lead by example. Consider planning for yourself first! You can share your plan and wishes with them, and this may open a conversation to talk about their preferences and make them more comfortable with the topic. When you start talking about yourself and your own end-of-life decisions, it can encourage others to open-up.

Sharing cautionary tales of other people’s end-of-life situations that were unplanned and caused conflicts may also help drive the point home.

When having difficult conversations, it’s always helpful to prepare in advance.

Take some time to review some of the resources we’ve provided so you have an idea of where the conversation needs to go.

Grieving & Death

What is a eulogy?

A eulogy is a speech presented at a funeral or memorial that honors the life of the individual who has passed away. It is a time to reflect upon a person’s life in a unique and thoughtful way. It may include a memory from a favorite trip, a nod to a life of accomplishments, or a reference to the deceased’s commitment to their community. Regardless of what is included in the eulogy, it is important that is delivered from the heart.

How do you write a eulogy?

Writing a eulogy can have mixed emotions. It is an honor but can also feel overwhelming for some.

As you write the eulogy, the most important thing to remember is that it comes from the heart and captures the true spirit of the deceased. Most impactful eulogies are short, sweet, and sentimental. A helpful guideline to follow is a 3 to 5-minute length.

Start by deciding on the tone – for example, do you want to be funny or more sentimental? It’s good to open the eulogy by introducing yourself so listeners who may not know you will have context.

Focus on sharing a story about them that highlights one or more memorable moments. It can also be thoughtful to try and include other important loved ones in your speech. Consulting with those who knew them best – family, friends, work colleagues, etc. can help you make sure you are honoring them with accuracy. Many people choose to close the eulogy with words of comfort for listeners.

How do you deliver a memorable eulogy?

You may have some butterflies in your stomach when it comes time to deliver a eulogy - this is natural. You may become emotional when you are speaking, and this is also very normal.

Practicing your eulogy delivery in advance is a good idea. This will help ensure what you’ve written is easy to read. The more you practice, the more you will memorize it, which will help with any nerves. You can practice by reading it advance to family.

Take a few deep breaths before you speak – slowly through the nose, hold it a minute, then exhale. Have some water nearby in case you need a drink while you are speaking. Use a microphone at the podium, if one is available. Try your best to make eye contact with your audience to better connect with them and speak as slowly as possible. Remember, everyone is there to support you and hear what you have to say.

Most importantly – be yourself! Don’t be afraid to insert humor in your speech, and know that it is okay to show emotion.

What’s the best way to express condolences?

When someone you know has lost a loved one, they just want to know that you are thinking about them.

Expressions of condolence can be simple. If you are very close to this person, you should reach out to them as soon as possible to let them know they are in your thoughts. If you are a casual friend or colleague, it’s fine to reach out within a few days.

A handwritten note or card is a nice personal touch. A telephone call or a visit may also be welcomed. Messages can vary, but a simple “My sincerest condolences, I’m sorry for your loss” can go a long way. It’s best to avoid being overly upbeat or comparing your feelings with theirs.

How can I cope with grief?

The grieving process is an important healing step following the death of a loved one. It is not an easy or short process, and it’s good to remember that it’s an individual experience that can vary from person to person.

Although the grieving process technically has several stages, it’s important to know that it is not a linear process and you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. Every situation is unique. During the grieving process, it is recommended to be in the presence of loved ones for support, build self-care into your routine, and reach out to others when necessary.

Funerals or memorial services are often considered important components of the grieving process. Not only do they give loved ones an opportunity to have their final goodbye, they also promote a sense of community and support that is often needed during this time.

How do you talk to children about death?

There are many different perspectives about how children handle losing a loved one, but most research supports the idea that children express loss and grief differently than adults.

Often children don’t have the language skills necessary to fully express their emotions. For example, a child may demonstrate changes in their behavior as they grapple with the issues of grief. It’s important that they get the chance to express their grief however they need to.

Children may struggle to understand the finality of death. It’s best to be honest about what it means to have a loved one pass away, and make sure that your language is clear and candid.

Take things slowly and try to understand that grieving is an individual process for all – including children. There may be a need to reiterate messages continually as they learn to absorb the new information.

Don’t be afraid to show your own vulnerabilities as an adult who is also grieving the loss of a loved one. If they choose, allow a child to participate in ceremonies, including funerals, memorials, etc.

Our Site

Why is this site called My Coda?

A coda is a musical passage that brings a piece to an end. It is often based upon themes previously heard in the music. This concept inspired our naming of this site – a beautiful summary that is symbolic of a life well-lived. End-of-life planning encourages us to honor our stories, to be thoughtful about the final passages, and to end on a high note. Like an orchestra, life can be divided into many parts - we can help you honor the ending.

What is the purpose of this site?

This site is designed to be a one-stop resource for end-of-life planning. Our goal is to help simplify the planning process for you. Finding reliable information on this topic can be challenging, so we wanted to put it all in one place!

Is this site safe?

Your security and privacy are critical and we take protecting them very seriously. We will use and safeguard all your personal information in compliance with our Privacy Policy. To help you understand all your rights and obligations, you can also read our Terms and Conditions page

Where do your articles and FAQ content come from?

The My Coda team uses experts to curate or develop relevant content that you can trust and reflects best practices. We take pride in ensuring our information is accurate and reviewed by specialists in the industry.