If you have been asked to serve as an executor of someone’s estate, you have an important role to fill. You now have the responsibility of settling that person’s estate and you must remain impartial in doing so. Executor duties include taking possession and control of the estate property, paying creditors and taxes, and then distributing the remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries. Executor duties also include providing the probate court with a final accounting at the closing of the estate. Here are some of the common mistakes you should avoid when fulfilling your executor duties.
Mistake No. 1 – Not educating yourself or getting the advice you need
One important thing to remember is that the administration of an estate is a legal process. Unless you are an attorney, accountant or other similar professional, you will most likely need to educate yourself about the probate process and your expected executor duties. The court can provide important information to guide you through the process. However, it is also helpful to speak to a probate lawyer so you can get advice related to your specific situation. An experienced probate attorney can provide necessary assistance in preparing some of the documents that will be required by the court. Your attorney can also ensure that you comply with the applicable laws and deadlines.
Mistake No. 2 – Waiting too long to place real estate on the market
If your ultimate goal is to settle the estate as quickly as possible, which is typically the case, and you intend to sell any real estate, then you need to put that real estate on the market as soon as you can. That means, once you have been approved and appointed as the executor of the estate, you need to list the house on the market and start soliciting offers. Under these circumstances, it is usually better to enlist the services of a realtor who is familiar with handling probate property.
Mistake No. 3 – Missing court deadlines for submitting required paperwork
As part of your executor duties, there will be several documents you will need to gather and submit to the court. There will also be various court-imposed deadlines that must be met. It is important that you do not miss these deadlines. Once you figure out which deadlines apply to you, be sure to put them on your calendar. If, for a reason beyond your control, you cannot meet a particular deadline, be sure to let the court know. If you are required to appear in court, make sure you do even if you haven’t completed the task. Explaining to the court why you were unable to finish the task is always better than not showing up at all. Also, be sure to file estate tax returns on time. In most cases, federal estate tax returns must be filed nine months after the decedent’s death.
Mistake No. 4 – Don’t wait too long to initiate the probate process
There are several reasons you would want to start the probate process as soon as possible. One of the most obvious reasons is that anyone with an interest in the estate will likely be impatient. Also, the longer the process takes, the more impatient creditors will become, as well. Waiting too long to get started will only increase the pressure on you to get everything done by the deadline. While it is understood that you may need time to mourn, the longer you wait the greater the stress you will likely have attempting to complete your executor duties.
Mistake No. 5 – Not keeping an accurate accounting of transactions involving the estate
It is extremely important that you keep accurate records regarding everything that you do involving the assets of the estate. Some people forget that administering an estate is a financial matter that requires a precise accounting. The reality is, not everyone is comfortable handling finances, keeping balance sheets, or even staying organized. If this is the case for you, it would be a good idea to seek the advice or assistance of a professional. Depending on the size and nature of the estate assets, you might not need a Certified Public Accountant. Instead, a book keeper may be just fine. The point is, when it comes time to settle the estate, if everything doesn’t add up, there will likely be objections from creditors, heirs or even if the court.
Attend a FREE seminar! If you have questions regarding executor duties, or any other estate planning matters, contact Gersh Law Offices, P.S.C. for a complementary consultation either online or by calling us at (502) 423-7023.