This is an article written by Miami University professor and writer for USA Today, Patrick O’Brien (http://executor.org/) that we thought others may find helpful.
The seven common mistakes you don’t want to make in the role
Starting your role as an executor without understanding what an executor is and what an executor does is a mistake. You should go into the role with open eyes because service often comes with legal liability, so understanding your duties and responsibilities is a must.
An executor deals with the final administration of an estate. An executor of will is named in a will to deal with the logistics of carrying out the wishes expressed in the will. While a will may name a person as an executor, that person does not have to accept the nomination. Serving as an executor can be time-consuming and emotionally difficult. If you are named as an executor in a will and you have reservations about serving, you should not feel bad if you want to decline.
The responsibilities of an executor generally starts with filing the will with the local probate court then moves on to protecting the assets in the estate, paying debts, and finally distributing the estate’s assets according to the will.
2. Not Asking for Help
Unless you have extensive experience as an estate executor, you should not try to do it alone. There are many times when an executor will need the help of a licensed and trained professional. These professionals you engage are serving for the benefit of the estate and the work they do on behalf of the estate can be paid for out of estate funds.
You should consider hiring an attorney to help with all the legal aspects of the estate’s administration. Before you can close an estate, there are likely legal filings to make and laws to which you need to adhere. Also, there are required tax filings for estates. Having an accountant on your team can really help. As you deal with particular areas of the administration of the estate such as the sale of real estate or personal property, you may also need to engage a realtor or appraiser, for example.
3. Trying to Move Too Quickly
The executor duties you have to handle can’t be completed in a weekend, or a month, or even a couple of months. The administration of an estate is a lengthy process and you should not try to rush what can take typically 9-12 months and try to squish it into 3 months.
Rushing the process could result in legal liability. Remember, as executor of will you should be acting in “good faith” and if you rush things, you will increase the chances that you are not fulfilling that requirement, which could result in liability.
Moving too quickly can also be taxing on you personally. As an executor, you likely knew the deceased well and if you don’t take the time to care for yourself and grieve the loss, it can take a great toll on your physical and emotional well-being.
As executor, you have a multitude of tasks to complete. You may have to do everything from find and gather financial assets to prepare a home for sale. You can’t do a good job of all of this without staying organized.
You should use task lists (like the ones found on executor.org) to keep up with what you’ve completed and what’s left to do. You should also work to organize any paperwork you generate as well as relevant paperwork you find in the estate. When you are organized, everything seems more manageable.
5. Not Keeping in Regular Contact with Beneficiaries
Your work as an executor is for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the will. It may be easy to plug away on your to-do list, crossing off tasks as often as you can, without ever talking to anyone about your progress. But you need to communicate with the beneficiaries at each major juncture, and maybe a few times in-between.
The beneficiaries will be curious to know if you are making any progress and would benefit from knowing about any road bumps you hit along the way. Communication with beneficiaries can also help manage their expectations of how long the process will take and what types of difficult tasks are involved. Just as you probably did not know the depth of the role of an executor when you first learned you were named in the will as an executor, the beneficiaries probably don’t know what your role entails either. Regular updates and communication can help manage expectations.
There are pretty rigid rules and regulations governing the final administration of a decedent’s estate. From the initial filing of the will with the probate court to the notification of creditors, payment of debts and distribution of assets, there are a lot of laws and orders to follow.
Though you may be tempted to dive head-first into your role as executor, be sure everything you do is in accordance with the laws, and occurs at the right time in the process. This is often where an attorney can help you navigate these tricky waters. For example, it may be tempting to let a beneficiary take a couch out of the decedent’s house after the funeral because he or she needs one, but until ordered by the court or otherwise legally appropriate, assets (even couches) must not yet be distributed.
Following the court’s instructions and applicable laws may seem like a hassle, but to properly do your job as executor, you don’t have another choice.
7. Not Learning from the Experience
Serving as an executor, you likely spent a year working on the administration of someone else’s estate. There were probably several times when you thought to yourself, “I would have done that differently.” Now’s your chance.
Make a note of every lesson learned, each thing you found helpful and each thing you would do differently. Do not make the same mistakes again as you plan your own estate. It is up to you to make the process easier for your executor. Starting that process now will help!