There’s no question that being asked to serve as the executor of a will is one of the highest honors any of us can receive. However, far too many people accept that responsibility without fully understanding the full weight of the duty they’re agreeing to undertake. If you’ve been named as an executor and haven’t taken the time to examine all the duties and responsibilities you’ll eventually face, there’s no time like the present to remedy that situation. Here’s what you need to know about your job as an executor.
It’s Serious Business
Serving as an estate executor is not a game. Executors play a crucial role in the probate process, and serve as the effective eyes, ears, and arms of the court system during the proceedings. For while probate is a court-supervised process, it isn’t the judge or court clerks out there performing all the many tasks necessary for seeing the process through to completion. That’s the executor’s job. So, when you agree to serve as an executor, you should fully understand that you will basically be responsible for taking care of everything that needs to be done to settle your loved one’s affairs.
Those Tasks Are Many
There is no shortage of tasks to be performed either. The job begins shortly after the decedent’s death, and ends only when the last piece of property has been distributed to the heirs. In-between that beginning and end, there are a seemingly endless number of things that must be done to ensure that your loved one’s estate gets settled the right way. Those tasks include:
- Gathering up documents, including the will, and petitioning the court to recognize you as the legal representative for the estate. This is critical, since you’ll have no actual authority to fulfill your role until the court grants you that power.
- Notifying beneficiaries and creditors. The heirs need to know that they’re named as beneficiaries, and creditors have a right to receive formal notice so that they can levy claims against the estate for any unpaid debts. That latter notification should be accomplished using both direct contact with known creditors and the publication of a notice in the local newspaper to formally notify unknown creditors.
- Identifying and securing the decedent’s assets. Once you’ve taken control of those assets, you will need to have them appraised to determine their value, and then use that information to create an inventory that can be shared with the court and beneficiaries.
- Creating and maintaining a bank account for the estate. This account will receive estate wealth and income, and be used to pay debts, ongoing expenses, and any taxes that might be due.
- Evaluating creditor claims, determining their validity, and paying all legitimate debts.
- Preparing the decedent’s final federal and state income tax filings, and paying any taxes owed to the government. That includes estate taxes that may be due for larger estates.
- Helping the court to distribute assets to the named beneficiaries, and petitioning the court to formally close the estate.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
Some executors try to do too much on their own, and often end up making decisions outside of their own areas of expertise. That can be a tremendous mistake. The better option is to take advantage of your right to secure professional assistance at the estate’s expense. You can hire a professional appraiser, tax preparer, and legal counsel to help you navigate through these proceedings. In fact, hiring a probate attorney is something that all executors should consider early in the process.
You Have a Fiduciary Duty
If you’re wondering why executors should have lawyers, this is the reason. Every executor is charged with a fiduciary duty to the heirs. That’s a high level of duty that requires you to do everything in your power to ensure that the beneficiaries’ interests are always placed ahead of your own. Most people are unsure about how that can be achieve, and that can lead to legal controversy in many situations. An attorney can help to ensure that you fulfill your obligations in a way that best protects your interests, while avoiding potential legal liability.
Your Interests Deserve to be Protected
Before you dismiss the possibility of potential legal liability being incurred during your time as an executor, consider the facts. Each year, there are families who sue executors for a variety of reasons. While some of those cases involve real controversies that need to be addressed, many are the result of situations that could have been easily avoided if just a little more care was exercised during the probate process. The problem is that a failure to properly fulfill your fiduciary duty could expose your personal assets to lawsuit liability.
Your attorney can help you to ensure that you meet all your obligations in a manner that protects your wealth and your family. He or she can help to guide you through each step of the process, or simply help you with the most technical aspects of probate. Most importantly, just having an attorney on your side is often the best deterrent against frivolous lawsuits from disgruntled or confused heirs. That’s why many experts recommend that executors always consult with an attorney early in the probate process. There is no reason to take risks that can be easily avoided with a little prior preparation.
Without executors and personal representatives, most estates would take years to settle. After all, the court system around the country is routinely backlogged with a whole host of legal concerns. When you’ve been named as the executor of a will, however, it’s vital to understand your role and have the help you need to properly fulfill its obligations. At the Fouts Law Group, LLC, our probate attorneys can assist you with every aspect of the probate process, to ensure that your loved one’s estate is settled the right way. At the same time, we will work with you to help you avoid potential legal liability that could result from serious errors or neglect. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us online or give us a call at (404) 596-7520 today.
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