For many who are called upon to serve as a loved one’s estate executor, the honor of being asked often results in a failure to ask questions about what that role entails. The fact is that the job of settling a loved one’s affairs is one that requires a great deal of time, organization, and steely resolve. You’ll also need to have the patience of a saint and the willingness to delve into specific tasks that can require very divergent skill sets. Unfortunately, many people agree to the job without ever knowing what to expect. If you’ve been asked to serve in this capacity, here is what you need to know about being the executor of an estate.
Many executors struggle to find the time to complete all their assigned responsibilities. This is especially true in cases where that person has a busy life and little free time. Executors have more to do than just filing a few forms with the court. There are assets to be found, property to be appraised, records to be kept, and creditors to be notified and paid. Taxes need to be calculated, and returns filed. Beneficiaries need to be kept in the loop, and their concerns need to be addressed in a transparent way. Executors often seem to be pulled in a million different directions at once – and few people have the requisite time available to adequately meet the challenge.
About that Temperament
It’s also important to make sure that you are temperamentally suitable to the task. If you’re someone who just likes to “go with the flow” and not make any sort of waves, then this job may not be right for you. For better or worse, executors are confronted with controversy and a wide range of different personality types. Aggressive heirs and creditors may resist your decisions or seek to gain advantage. You need to be able to withstand that pressure.
At the same time, you also need to be calm and secure enough in your own skin to maintain your composure and continue unfazed by the many distractions that may arise during probate. This is not an easy thing for most people to do, but it is necessary if the process is to continue without serious disruption. Do you have the sort of steady, professional demeanor that is required to stay on task even when things around you seem to be one step away from erupting into chaos?
As mentioned already, your job would require a host of diverse skills. Do you have any legal background or familiarity with financial issues? If not, are you capable of working with others who do? To get an idea of the type of different skills that may be required to successfully probate your loved one’s estate, just consider the core duties that you would have to perform:
- Filing with the court to request appointment as the executor
- Locating and taking custody of all estate assets – even those not specifically mentioned in the will
- Appraisal of assets to determine their value and the total value of the estate
- Notification to creditors so that they can make claims against the estate
- Reports to the court and the beneficiaries
- Analysis of any claims by creditors, and payment of all valid debts
- Calculation of tax obligations and filing of the deceased’s final tax returns – including estate taxes where required
- Providing a final accounting to the court, and distribution of assets to heirs named in the will
Obviously, even those basic tasks will require certain skills sets that you may not possess. Do you have skills as an appraiser or accountant? Are you well-versed in tax return preparation or estate tax law? Would you know how to recognize which creditor claims need to be paid and which are of questionable legitimacy?
The good news is that you can hire experts to help you with these tasks, and those costs are covered by the deceased’s estate. Obviously, you don’t want to just hire professional help just for the sake of having help, but you should not hesitate to bring in outside assistance if there are any areas that you cannot handle on your own.
The Job May Cost You
It is also important to note that the job can cost you not only time but money as well. Many executors find themselves driving from city to city, or even traveling from another state to fulfill their obligations. That can mean time away from work, as well as travel expenses. Of course, those travel expenses are typically covered by the estate, but even that can present complications – especially if reimbursement for your costs places you into conflict with heirs who assume that you’re spending money that should be part of their inheritance.
Why You Should Seek Help
Even if you review these details and believe that you have what it takes to tackle the job, it is still wise to seek help with the process. When you retain a probate administration attorney, you can gain access to resources and knowledge that can help to make the entire process run more smoothly. More importantly, you can get the technical assistance and guidance you need to protect your own interests and avoid mistakes that might result in personal liability for asset value losses. There are no guarantees that mistakes won’t happen, but it is important to do everything that you can to avoid them.
At the Law Offices of Mary A. Miller, P.C., our experienced estate planning and probate administration experts can help to guide you through the probate process in the most efficient and orderly manner possible. We can assist you with specific tasks or handle the entire process for you, depending upon your individual needs. Don’t let your role as the executor of an estate overwhelm you in any way. Instead, rely on the experts at our office to give you the assistance you need to overcome any probate challenges you might confront. To learn more about how we can simplify your role in the probate process, visit our website today or give us a call at (914) 939-6565 today.