So, you have been named executor of a loved one’s estate and you want to avoid executor mistakes. What now? In an ideal world, you would have already worked out whether to accept the role and rehearsed the necessary steps. Rarely is the world so ideal, though. Lives are busy, time is scarce, and inevitably the need to attend to a loved one’s estate arrives at a moment already laden with stress. If the role of executor has been thrust upon you, it helps to learn where others have gone wrong so that no extra difficulty is added to an already-daunting job. What follows are four common mistakes executors make and how best to avoid them.
1. Not Understanding What You are Signing Up For
An executor of a will assumes the responsibility of carrying out the wishes expressed in the will. In general, this means filing the will in the circuit court clerk’s office where the decedent lived, protecting the estate’s assets, filing the required reports with the supervising commissioner of accounts, paying the decedent’s debts, and, finally, distributing the remaining estate to its beneficiaries.
However straightforward the process may sound, in reality, serving as executor of an estate is a time-consuming, often trying task. What is more, an executor is a fiduciary, and is legally and ethically bound to act in the estate’s best interest.
If you worry that the executor role may be too much or you fear making executor mistakes, know that you are not required to accept the role. Should you decline the nomination, it is important to promptly inform the deceased’s family and formally waive qualification so someone else may qualify as executor.
2. Failing to Ask for Help
Once you have decided to serve as the executor of a loved one’s estate, you should seek out an experienced attorney to counsel you through the qualification and administration process. As executor, you must follow the law and have deadlines by which you file reports with the supervising commissioner of accounts. Unless you have extensive experience as an executor (and have kept up with changes in the law), serving as executor if often a task that benefits from professional guidance.
3. Neglecting Your Duties
Estate administration is governed by law. No matter how much beneficiaries may clamor for their inheritances, the primary responsibility of an executor is to the estate, not the beneficiaries. Debts must be paid (or assets identified that will pay them) before assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. Cutting corners and acting too quickly can expose the executor to personal liability.
4. Overlooking the Need for Communication
An important role of the executor is communicating with the beneficiaries and setting their expectations. Beneficiaries are entitled to certain notices and communications from the executor and may request copies of the filings the executor makes with the commissioner of accounts. Ultimately, the executor cannot close out the estate without receipts from the beneficiary showing they received their inheritance, so it does not benefit the executor to have a poor relationship with the estate’s beneficiaries.
Attending to all the executor’s duties takes a lot of time and effort. Trusting an experienced estate administration attorney to guide you through the process lightens your load and ensures none of your many responsibilities are overlooked.
Let Us Help You Avoid Executor Mistakes
Whether you want representation as the executor of an estate or wish to create your own estate plan, please call Promise Law at (757) 690-2470 or reach out to us through our website to schedule the next step. We will provide the advice and guidance you need to avoid making executor mistakes, or we can guide you in what to do if an executor is making mistakes that negatively impact you or your family.