The Real Technology Behind Estate Settlement
Can executors really file documents electronically?
According to various studies, 99% of respondents over the age of 45 intend to name a friend or family member as their executor. Most people who are named as executors have no previous experience with the task. And, it is estimated that 70% of North Americans do not have a current and valid will, which can significantly complicate the role of the executor.
Thankfully, there are a number of products and services available to executors to assist them with the job. These can vary from engaging a lawyer to using one of a number of online tools or printed guides. Lawyers obviously carry a cost and the guides are often vague and carry a fee for purchase and use. Funeral homes often provide executor assistance products to their client families as do financial service professionals.
Death is not yet digital
One thing that is claimed by a number of executor assistance products is that they can provide electronic filing of many documents required to settle an estate. The reality is actually quite different.
If you provide a client with a product that claims to e-file, be sure you know exactly what it can file electronically so that you are not misrepresenting the product to your client. And, that your client is not paying for a service that does not exist.
Not surprisingly, many of the documents that need to be filed for settling an estate are mailed or faxed to government offices. At this point, very few of those government offices offer electronic filing of estate documents. Some even require the return of the deceased’s original documents such as their driver’s license and Health Card. Even if electronic filing was technologically available, many government agencies require original signatures to authenticate official documents. For this reason, executors, and those who provide them with their estate settlement products, need to be wary of any product or service that claims to “e-file all the necessary documents” for the settlement of an estate. Even most credit card companies recommend that you contact them by telephone to report the death of a cardholder.
The three North American credit bureaus are one of the few places one can electronically report a death but it can only be done by “an accredited data supplier”. The general public cannot access the service and neither can funeral homes or other organizations that deal with families of the deceased.. The fact is, death has not yet really entered the digital age. If you are an executor and you want to engage a company that is offering e-filing for estate settlement documents you can certainly do so, but know that they are likely charging you to send the documents via mail or fax, which is something you can do yourself. The same is true for deathcare and financial services professionals who offer or sell executor assistance products to their clients.
Technology is in the works
The good news is that many jurisdictions are looking into ways to use technology to simplify and streamline the death notification process. They have lots of motivation to find a technology solution because delays in notification can cause people to continue receiving benefits for the deceased they are not entitled to or, conversely, lead to survivors not receiving benefits they are due. In the US, forty-three of the fifty states have implemented the Electronic Death Registration system employed by the Social Security Administration. This system allows for electronic notification of a death and is restricted in use to Funeral Directors, doctors and medical examiners that certify the death. It is not available to the general public. In Canada, tests of similar systems are underway and the federal government has established a “Death Notification Working Group” to develop and establish a blueprint and business architecture to improve the timeliness of death registration and notification.
Unfortunately, notifying government agencies of a death is just one part of an executor’s responsibilities. The process involves dealing with banks and pension funds and a host of other entities to settle every aspect of the estate. There are a number of very useful guides and online tools available for executors including INEX’s Closing Affairs however, none can electronically file all or even most of the documents required to settle an estate. So if you are a deathcare or financial services professional offering estate settlement support products, and you are considering using a service that purports to e-file documents to government, financial institutions and the like, you should assess the value of such a service with the knowledge that they do not possess software that can e-file your documents.
You are really just paying them to submit forms and documents in the traditional manner on behalf of your client. If the cost still seems worth it, then by all means proceed.