Serving as executor of an estate can be a weighty responsibility. Even smart, experienced people can make mistakes. Knowing some of the more common pitfalls in advance can help you avoid them as you navigate the process of administering the estate and dealing with probate.
A Pennsylvania executor's duties typically include filing the necessary paperwork with the court, inventorying the estate's assets, paying taxes, handling creditors and distributing assets according to the provisions in the will. Mistakes can cause conflicts among beneficiaries, may result in assets losing value and can open you up to legal liability.
Speak with a qualified lawyer before taking action
One of the top errors executors make is neglecting to consult a knowledgeable estate attorney as soon as possible. Getting the right advice can help you steer clear of mistakes you may not be able to fix later. The probate and administration process can contain complexities and surprises. Even people with financial and business expertise may be unaware of certain important aspects, which a lawyer can help you address.
Do not let personal feelings take over
Sometimes, an executor may disagree with a will's provisions. An executor who is also very close with the family can feel especially strongly about provisions that may treat some of the beneficiaries unfairly. However, failing to follow the instructions in the will can have serious consequences, including potential personal liability for breach of fiduciary duty.
Make sure you identify all existing assets
Compiling a complete list of the estate's assets is one of the major duties of an executor. You cannot necessarily rely on any list of assets the decedent leaves, which may be incomplete, out of date or otherwise inaccurate. As an executor, you need to investigate to ensure you do not overlook an asset. Measures you should take include making a comprehensive search of the home and properties, searching available property records, speaking with accountants and perusing all existing papers.
Handle estate taxes meticulously
As executor, you must also file estate taxes. You need to make sure you file all necessary forms and documents within the proper timeline. Mistakes or omissions can result in a tax audit for the estate.