If you have to serve as the executor or administrator of a loved one’s estate, that’s probably a sign that they trusted and respected you. Most people try to choose someone that they believe is both honest and competent when selecting an executor.
However, even if you are intelligent and organized, you could make some significant mistakes during estate administration that could have financial and even legal repercussions for you personally. Understanding your responsibilities as executor can help you avoid mistakes that could have negative implications for you.
Follow the process carefully despite pressure from the heirs
Family members eager to get back into the deceased person’s house or to receive their share of the family business may try to pressure you to distribute certain assets early. However, there is a specific process to estate administration.
Generally, you need to provide documentation to the courts, then settle outstanding financial responsibilities for the deceased before you begin the distribution of assets. Settling financial responsibilities will include paying off all creditors, ranging from a hospital where someone received care during their last days to their credit card debt and student loans.
Only once all tax and debt-related obligations get paid in full can family numbers and beneficiaries receive assets. If you distribute assets too early, creditors could potentially come after you if they don’t get paid.
Keep a careful record of what you do as executor
Did you just spend six hours going back and forth via phone and email with someone at the electricity company to get the account put into the state’s name? Have you paid property taxes while waiting for the estate to move through probate? Did you let a family member take a physical asset from the house?
Every distribution of property, no matter the nature of the asset or its value, requires careful documentation. The better your records are, the easier it will be to prove that you complied with the law, followed the instructions of the testator and took all necessary actions as executor. Such records can protect you from challenges and claims against you by family members unhappy with the speed of the process or their share of the estate.
Having an attorney guide you through estate administration can benefit you. A lawyer will assist with everything from handling the probate process in court to defending yourself if someone claims you have misappropriated estate resources or failed to perform your duties.