Being asked to be the executor of a will is an honor–someone believes that you are trustworthy, responsible and competent. However, since the job comes with many important legal responsibilities, it can also be a challenge. To complicate things, an executor is often a trusted family member who in addition to trying to settle the estate, may be dealing with their own emotions from the death.
Many executors underestimate the responsibilities ahead of them and the job can be overwhelming. At the time of a death, a person's assets and property become part of an estate. The assigned executor is responsible for following the wishes set forth in the will and administering the estate including, among other things, distributing assets and paying off debts or taxes.
If you find yourself as the administrator of a will, try to avoid these common mistakes many executors make:
Not communicating properly
As an executor, you are responsible for handling the monetary transactions and need to do so in a clear and transparent way. It will be important to show that your motives are fair and objective, so communicate clearly and consistently with the beneficiaries. You'll also want to keep careful records and keep a paper trail as proof of every transaction.
Not understanding your duties
When you are an executor, you have a legal responsibility to handle the estate and money properly, so it's important to know the duties assigned to you. These include conducting an inventory of the estate, collecting and protecting the assets and property, paying debts, distributing the assets and settling tax payments. Have a goal in mind and a good plan in place to stay on track. In protecting the assets, pay attention to details like staying current with homeowners or car insurance.
Not asking for help when you need it
The process of executing a will can get overwhelming quickly– the responsibilities are numerous, technical and complicated. Trying to save the estate money by managing things yourself may end up being more costly in the end when you don't understand or properly follow complicated laws.
A professional can ease your legal burden by guiding you accurately through the legal proceedings and advising you about the correct steps to take and timeline to follow. Professional help may also insulate you from liability, but keep in mind that professional advice is just that–you aren't exonerated from your duties and are still responsible for those assigned to you as executor.
Incorrectly managing real estate
Many executors are in a hurry to move property, but it's important to be deliberate and methodical about selling the house or other assets. It's your responsibility to sell the house at the fair market value, so have the estate properly appraised and work with a trusted real estate agent for the best course of action. To stay transparent, be sure to keep the paperwork regarding the sale price and the commission amount–the beneficiaries will want to know.
Not securing valuable assets
Even if an item has been promised to a beneficiary, initially the property becomes part of the estate until probate is settled. Certain assets may need to be appraised and secured until the estate can be finalized, which can be complicated if multiple family members have keys to the house.
Not planning for a lengthy process
While you should act quickly once you're assigned as the administrator, expect that the process is going to take some time. Settling an estate can take anywhere from a couple of months to several years depending on the complexities. Even a simple estate with few assets can take months to settle. Creditors with an interest in the estate have up to a year to make a claim on an estate, which in itself adds time to the process.
If you've been appointed the executor of an estate, it's important to take your job seriously giving careful thought and consideration to the tasks before you. Take your time, act responsibly and get the professional help and advice you might need.