One of the most challenging aspects of the probate process involves the responsibilities that every executor faces when the maker of a will passes away. Often times, people give little thought to those duties when they’re making out wills or developing estate planning strategies. Unfortunately, that can leave an executor in the position of trying to make sense of complex will provisions, organizing disorderly records, and dealing with creditors that are sometimes difficult to identify. All of that can be avoided if you properly consider those executor duties as you make out your estate plan.
Consider it a Partnership
When you make out a will and choose an executor, you are doing more than just selecting somebody to deal with your estate when you die. You are entrusting someone with the responsibility of ensuring that your entire estate is closed in a respectful and efficient manner. Unless you’re selecting a professional attorney or other probate expert, there’s a good chance that you’re also entrusting all of that to a person with little or no experience in dealing with the probate process. That can make his or her job a stressful experience, as there are certain aspects of estate settlement that can require legal and financial knowledge or professional assistance.
When you’re creating your estate plan, it’s always important to take that into consideration. Since one of the goals of estate planning is to ensure that you’re not leaving a mess behind for your heirs, it’s only right and proper to offer that same level of consideration to the person you name as your executor. Of course, that means that you have to understand what those executor duties will be, and then try to avoid making those responsibilities any more difficult than necessary. Try to think of your executor as your partner in the settlement of your affairs.
Understand the Duties
You should be at least somewhat familiar with the various duties your executor has to fulfill. That will enable you to try to simplify things so that he or she can more efficiently close out your estate when you die. Here is a look at some of those duties, and how you can avoid making them more complicated than they need to be:
- Your executor will have to present your will to the court and request formal recognition as the personal representative for your estate. Obviously, the court fillings will be something that you won’t be around to assist with when you die, but you can still help by making sure that your executor doesn’t have to spend time trying to track down your will. This is especially true when people have multiple wills they’ve written over the course of their lives, as opposed to one will with codicils to alter certain provisions as needed.
If someone suggests that you store your will in a bank safety deposit box, ignore that advice. Your executor will need to be recognized by the court before he or she can gain access to your bank accounts and safety deposit, and that can’t happen until the court receives the will! Instead, keep your Last Will and Testament in a safe place that is accessible after death. That could be with your other important papers at home, or you might just have your attorney keep it for you until you die. But wherever you store it, make sure that your executor knows where to find it.
- The executor will need to identify, gather, and secure your assets. This is a process that you can help to simplify by maintaining records in an orderly manner, or simply by maintaining a list of your assets.
- He or she will need to notify creditors – both known and unknown – so that any outstanding debts can be paid. Again, a good portion of this duty can be easily dealt with if your own records are up to date. Even if you don’t bother to organize bills, loan information, and other creditor details, your executor will have an easier time identifying those creditors if you at least keep the records in a central location.
- Taxes will need to be calculated and paid. Financial records should be organized as well, including tax records. And remember, if you’re concerned that your estate may be subject to the estate tax, now is the time to address that issue. There is little that your executor will be able to do to protect your estate from those taxes once you’re gone.
- The remaining assets will need to be distributed to your heirs. This is where your estate planning can really make a difference. The provisions of your will need to be clear, with detailed listings of heirs and their given inheritances. With sound planning, you can help your executor avoid the complications that ensue when wills are contested.
There are other duties, of course. Executors have to inventory assets and make them available to the right parties. They are also charged with a fiduciary duty to the estate, which means that they must preserve the value of the estate assets wherever possible, prudently invest assets when needed, and remain transparent in their activities. At the end of the process, they must also provide a formal accounting of their activities throughout the probate process and request that the court close the estate. Naturally, you won’t be there to assist with any of those duties – but your thoughtful and careful estate planning efforts can help to simplify the rest of the process.
Get Help Now!
The attorneys at the Fouts Law Group, LLC can help you to ensure that your estate planning efforts properly consider the executor duties your personal representative will face. We can assist you with the creation of an organized estate plan that meets your needs without creating added complications for your named executor. To find out how our estate planning and probate experts can help you with your end-of-life needs, visit us at our website today or call (678) 242-8344.