The Executor's Glossary

Here are some common terms you may come across when managing the deceased’s affairs.

Immediate aftermath of death

  • Administrator: A person appointed by the court to manage the assets and liabilities of a deceased who has died without a Will. This is different from the Executor, who is named in the deceased’s Will to manage their estate.

  • Advance Directive: The deceased’s written wishes regarding medical treatment made to ensure those wishes are carried out in the event the person is unable to communicate them to a doctor (often includes a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care).

  • Certified/Original Death Certificate: Legal document which proves the death. It has a raised seal, will show the signature of the State Registrar, and will be printed on security paper. 

  • Coroner: The person who confirms and certifies the death of an individual.

  • Deceased or Decedent: The person who died.

  • Designated Agent: The person tasked by the deceased to take care of funeral/memorial arrangements.

  • Executor/Executrix: The person designated by the deceased to carry out their final wishes (usually the spouse). If there is no Will or no one is mentioned, then the person appointed is referred to as the Administrator.

  • Funeral: The service before the body is buried or cremated.

  • Graveside Service: A funeral that only takes place at the grave site.

  • Inurnment: The placing of the urn, containing ashes of the deceased, into their final resting place. 

  • Internment: It’s another name for a burial.  

  • Letter of Instruction, Final Instructions, or Disposition Authorization: Written instructions for funeral or memorial service arrangements, and burial or cremation arrangements.

  • Memorial Service: The service after the body has been buried or cremated.

  • Mortuary: Place where the body is held until burial/cremation, typically the funeral home.

Handling the deceased’s assets

  • Annuity: A type of investment where an individual pays a life insurance company a lump sum at the start and then gets paid back in increments over some future period.

  • Asset: Any item that adds value to the deceased’s estate or your personal financial situation (i.e. property, car, stocks).

  • Beneficiary: A person who receives money or property, such as from a deceased’s life insurance policy, retirement pension, or annuity.

  • Contestability Clause: A short period of time, usually 1-2 years, in which insurance companies can investigate and deny claims.

  • Dying Intestate: Dying without a will.

  • Employee Identification Number or Tax ID: A number given to an organization or trust by the IRS. Think of it as a social security number for a company.

  • Estate: The net worth of a person at any point in time alive or dead. It includes all the property the person owns (jewelry, property, land, retirement, etc.).

  • Fiduciary: A person who has a legal or ethical responsibility to hold your financial best interests in mind (example: financial planner) 

  • Grantor in a Trust: The person who sets up a trust and adds assets to it.

  • Individual Retirement Account (IRA): A retirement account where the money is not taxed until taken out.

  • Irrevocable Trust and Revocable Trust: When a person submits assets to an irrevocable trust, they lose the ability to modify them without permission of the benefactor. A revocable trust allows the person submitting assets to modify the trust.

  • Joint tenants with rights of survivorship.  A way of owning property where both people are listed as owners. Upon death of one of the owners, accounts held jointly in this way will automatically belong to the surviving owner. These properties do not need to go through probate. This is common with spouses.

  • Living Trust: A legal document that says who can manage and distribute your property if you are unable, and who receives it when you die. It’s called a living trust because it’s written while you are still alive.

  • Petition: A formal request made by a lawyer to a court.

  • Settling an Estate: The process of paying a deceased’s debts and taxes and distributing their estate among survivors.

  • Testator: The person who wrote the Will (usually the deceased).

  • Trust: A legal term used for assets that are held by a trustee until able to be given to a beneficiary.

  • Trustee: The person responsible for managing the Trust. 

  • Power of Attorney or Attorney-In-Fact or Agent: A written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter, sometimes against the wishes of the other. This role becomes obsolete upon death. Then, the Designated Agent has the authority to make funeral or memorial arrangements, as well as burial or cremation arrangements. However, many insurance companies still want a copy of the Power of Attorney.

  • Probate: The process where a legal court distributes your estate. If you have a Will, the court will distribute according to that.

  • Probate Court: A court which primarily handles matters relating to Wills and estates.

  • Proof of Representation or Letter of Appointment of Executor: This refers to either the person who becomes the authorized representative of the deceased (sometimes called “Executor” or “Executrix”) or the document given to this representative.  The document must be authorized by a court. 

  • Small Estate Affidavit: A document given to the court that allows a small estate to be transferred to the heir without going through probate.  State laws determine what qualifies as a small estate.

  • Successor Trustee: Person who assumes authority of a trust after the trustee dies, similar to an executor.

  • Transfer on Death: A designation put on property and that allows the transfer of those assets without going through probate.  This is the easiest way to pass assets from the deceased to an heir; we highly recommend doing it in your estate planning. 

  • Will: Legal document that outlines who should get the deceased’s property/assets and how they should be distributed. 

How Much Does An Obituary Cost?

On average an obituary can be between $0 and $600.

obituary example.jpg

Factors that affect obituary cost:

  • Length of text - consider this before you start writing
  • Photo - is black and white okay or do you want color?
  • Location/Publication (i.e. the LA Times vs. your local newspaper).* 
  • Day of the week - weekends are generally more expensive
  • How many days you want the obituary to run

Key parts of an obituary:

  • Name of deceased
  • Date of deceased
  • Names of deceased's family
  • Date and location of services
  • Info about flowers/donations


Why write an obituary?

  • It let's people know the person has passed, so they can come to the funeral.
  • It marks the person's death in history.


*Note your funeral home may be able to run one on their web site for free. 

The 5 Gotchas of Death

This article isn’t meant to scare you, but rather to spare you from some of the unfortunate things that can happen when someone dies. Death sucks and then life adds further injury by requiring you to do lots of paperwork within a short period of time after death — or else! Unfortunately, this article is a bit scary. It just is. But that’s why we need to keep talking about this stuff. For I believe we must tackle head on the things that scare us.

Here’s the good news! The 5 gotchas below can be avoided! The best way to avoid these 5 gotchas is to have an open and honest conversation with your spouse and parents about finances ahead of time. And it’s critical to have key information/passwords written down and a copy given to the people who need it. See the Recommended Action section at the end.

This article is primarily written for surviving spouses, their families, and estate executors, but is something anyone can benefit from knowing.

The 5 Gotchas of Death

  • You could lose your health insurance. If your husband/wife dies and they were the primary holder on your health insurance, you will need to find new health coverage within 60 days. This article breaks down the various options available.
  • You could lose the deceased’s car. Sadly, the company that gave the car loan can repossess the car if payments stop. To ensure this doesn’t happen, notify the loan company of the death right away and begin taking necessary steps to continue payments. This is why knowing what loan payments exist, who the loan is with, and when they get paid is critical to know before the death. Use this helpful tool to map that out.
  • You could lose your home. If you are unable to make mortgage payments, the lender is legally allowed to evict you. It is best to call sooner rather than later and ideally before missing the first payment. For tips on negotiating with your lendor, see here.
  • Creditors may come after you for missed payments. Here is a list of what creditors can take and what they can’t for missing payments.
  • You may have to pay a lot of taxes. It may be tempting to pull out all the deceased’s money right away as there will be lots of costs in the days following the death. However, before pulling out all the deceased’s money out of their IRA/other retirement accounts, consult a financial advisor! This may seem an unnecessary expense, but it can save you a ton of money later! One survivor did this when her mother passed and it bumped her up into a higher tax bracket and resulted in lots of additional taxes at year end! Remember, when you pull money out and close accounts, you may be taxed on that amount.

Recommended Action: Take 45 minutes this weekend and map things out once and for all for your spouse and/or parents! Feel free to use the tool I used with my own parents.

Lost someone and need help? Survivor Resources provides step-by-step guides for navigating the logistics of death and help for wrapping up your loved one’s life.

The 3 People Estate Executors Need

A quick checklist to help you navigate the logistics of death

Losing someone is never easy, but helping to execute their affairs can be even difficult and overwhelming. Adding to that many executors are first-time executors.

The good news is you don’t have to do things alone and there are tons of resources out there. I learned this through own own experience with death and identified the three most important people (in addition to yourself) that are needed to wrap up an estate.

The Executor’s Legal & Financial Support Team

This is just the tip of the iceberg, simply letting you know who does what. To really be guided through the process and all the steps, I recommend any of our Executor/Survivor's Guides, comprehensive guides with step-by-step instructions for navigating the emotional, legal, and financial steps of death.

The 45 Minute Financial Exercise Every Couple Needs To Do Together

Why 45 minutes can save your partner days of time and stress

You’re Not Alone! None of Us Can Remember our Passwords

A few months back I was working on a project with my boyfriend and something embarrassing happened. I was trying to show him an email in Microsoft Outlook and I couldn’t remember the password — and then I tried again, and again, and a fourth time! Then you know what happened next. Locked out! He just looked at me and shook his head. You see this is not the first time he’s witnessed my frenetic madness of trying variations of every one of my 5 different passwords.

The next day I recounted this story to a friend at work and he recommended Dashlane, a password manager. It’s an application that you download and which uses a master password to remember all your other passwords. And boy did I start to feel a little vindicated. When Dashlane assessed my computer and online presence, it found that I had 190 accounts! No wonder I was struggling. And turns out the average user has 90 online accounts. I’m sure you know the scene. “Wait, was that Snoopy with a zero or an O, was the S capitalized on this one or not?” You get the picture.

 This is how I felt — even though I am not a dude and I have a mac

This is how I felt — even though I am not a dude and I have a mac

Very few couples have a record of key financial information.

The struggle became all the more real when I was home for Thanksgiving and watched my mother struggle to make a call and a text using my dad’s cell phone. Later that day, I asked her about their bank accounts, insurance information, etc. You see I’m really focused on getting things in order right now, especially finances, so that if there is a death everyone will be okay. You might think this is a little strange, but there’s a back story here.

You see my sister passed away unexpectedly about a year ago and she was only 33. We didn’t have anything in order and it made me think about other families and how very few of us like to think of death, much less prepare for it. After talking with numerous other couples, I heard the same story. Very few, if any, had any of this information documented. And many were parents.

Take 45 minutes to record all your key accounts and passwords

As the famous financial guru, Dave Ramsey says most people can be categorized as either a “nerd” or a “free spirit” when it comes to money. Nerds love to budget and track money, whereas free spirits take a more laissez-faire approach. Both have their advantages and drawbacks, but when it comes to planning for death, even the most hardcore nerds don’t have one centralized place which documents everything for their free-spirited partner. Hence, I created a worksheet to help my parents, which I hope can also help couples organize their passwords, account information, and financials in one place. I call it very simple the Important Account & Passwords Cheat Sheet.

Take action: Next weekend take 45 minutes to sit down with your partner and fill out the Important Accounts & Passwords Cheat Sheet. Save it to your computer and put a printed copy in with all your other important papers.

 Sneak preview: page 1 of  Important Accounts and Passwords Cheat Sheet

Sneak preview: page 1 of Important Accounts and Passwords Cheat Sheet

This exercise won’t be incredibly fun, but it is incredibly important. For me, I view it as an “act of service” for my partner and family. By having everything documented and organized, I can give my family no greater gift if something happens to me. For those “nerds” out there, have fun! For those “free spirits” grab a beer, find a fun place to do it, but just do it:)

Lost someone? You Need these 8 People

A practical guide to setting up an Emotional Support Team

Losing someone is never easy. Then, in the middle of your grief, you are suddenly responsible for planning a funeral and bringing your loved
one’s affairs to a close. This can be incredibly overwhelming.

The good news is you don’t have to do things alone. You will be flooded with offers of help. Let others help by assigning them a role. I learned this through own own experience with death and identified eight useful roles that can be filled by people you trust. Use the Support Team guide below to help as you assign people or click here for the full printable worksheet.

The Survivor’s Support Team

How to Help a Grieving Friend

And 3 Things Not To Do When Someone Dies

Chances are you’ve known someone who’s died. Whether it was someone close to you or not, you may have wondered what you should say or do to help those closest to the deceased. I, myself, was a novice at this type of thing — that is until my sister’s tragic death one year ago.

Below is what I’ve learned about what you should do and shouldn’t do when helping a grieving friend/family member.

1. Try to not say “let me know if there’s anything I can do.” 

Of course you mean this sincerely and your friend will understand that. However, the challenge here is twofold: your friend has to first think of how you can help and then secondly actually follow up with you to get the help. And they’ll ask themselves if the offer was genuine or if you were just trying to be nice. Nine times out of ten, they won’t reach out.

Instead say:

  • “I’m going to take care of updating X group so you don’t have to worry about them. I’m the representative for X friend group. I’ve talked to everyone and they all send their love and care about you deeply. I’ll keep them updated so you don’t have to.” Lots of people will be reaching out to your friend and that can be overwhelming. Being a representative for a friend group lets the person know your group cares, but reduces the number of people your friend will have to respond to. My friend Jeanette did this for my college friends, and it was extremely helpful. In my Support Team one pager, I call this person the “advocate.” Download the Support Team worksheet here.
  • “I can research poems/readings for the funeral for you.” Sit down with the person and ask them what mood/feeling they want to go for. This way you can prepare a better list. Then, prepare a list of poems and readings for them. Note the best sites you found. This way if they don’t find something they like from your list, they at least know where to start. And let them know that there is no pressure to choose something from your list. Here’s a funeral poem site I used.
  • “I’m going to help you research/write the obituary, okay? I’ll come by on X date, I’ll ask you some questions, and then I’ll draft something for you.” If possible, come prepped with information about costs, typical length, and what should be in an obituary. You, yourself, will be surprised at just how much obituaries can be. Whether you actually write the obituary or just help with the research will vary with the situation and your writing skills. What your friend needs most right now is a guide. If you can be this in any small way, it will mean so much to them.Here are obituary guidelines from the LA Times obituary to give you an idea of the type of information you’ll need!

2. Don’t offer platitudes, like “it happened for a reason.” While well-intentioned, this can come off as minimizing.

Instead offer:

  • A positive memory/story about the deceased. Ideally, share something that you think will make your friend laugh or smile.
  • A listening ear. Sometimes just being with someone and listening can do a lot to validate their feelings and let them know you are there for them.

3. Don’t send flowers or perishable food. 

Everyone will be doing that — so rest assured it’s covered. And let’s face it most families won’t need more than 10 arrangements, and the average fridge can only hold so much baked ziti! Sending flowers and food are great, but it means that a lot of what really would help, the practical stuff, gets forgotten and falls to the grieving family. Luckily, here’s where you can help!

Instead send:

  • Non-perishable food, like a gift basket. These baskets are great for hosting or your friend can save for later. I’ll never forget seeing my brother-in-law as he attempted to freeze subs (sandwiches) as a way to deal with the massive amounts of perishable food he received.
  • A book. When my sister died, I received the book I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye and also a small daily prayer book called Jesus Calling. Both really helped — in the moment and at night when everyone was gone. If you can’t have a person telling you everything is going to be okay, then the second best thing is a book. This is especially good for your friends who are private grievers and may be less able to talk about their feelings.
  • A donation to a cause that mattered to the deceased. It’s always good to check if there’s a memorial fund. If there is, I highly recommend donating to it instead. Consider this: a memorial fund will let the family choose how to best to honor their loved one. In my sister’s case, we were shocked to receive over $10,000 from our YouCaring site! The practical person in me can’t help but note that this could have translated into flowers every week for 10 years if that’s what we wanted! In line with my sister’s passions, we’ve used it to further her love of art, the environment, and community. I’m forever thankful and know her friends are too, that we chose to honor her this way.

Bonus tip: Skip the flowers and send your friend the Survivor’s Guide, a step-by-step checklist that guides people through the logistics of death (planning the funeral to closing bank accounts, applying for social security). It will be the most thoughtful, practical gift your friend gets during this difficult time. Use code HalfOffGuide for 50% off any of the guides.

Do you have your own tips for how to respond to a friend who’s grieving? If so, I’d love to hear about it.