The executor responsibility can often feel like a major honor when it’s received, but that feeling can quickly turn to apprehension once you discover all that the job entails. The fact is that every estate that goes through probate needs to have an executor to handle all the myriad tasks and details involved in that process. It’s only natural to want to help a loved one when he or she asks you to take on that awesome responsibility, and that’s especially true when there are few other candidates that could be trusted to do the job properly. Still, it’s important to ask yourself whether you’re prepared to fulfill those executor duties.
What is an Executor?
The executor is the person responsible for facilitating the settlement of an estate once it passes into probate. He or she has a duty to guide the estate through all the various steps necessary for protecting assets, settling debts, paying taxes, and distributing inheritances to heirs. If that sounds simple, think again. Probate can take months or even years, depending upon the complexity of the estate, the need to pay any estate taxes due, and possible challenges to the provisions in the will.
Of course, there are certain financial and organizational skills that are often needed to properly probate an estate, but that doesn’t mean that you must possess those skills yourself. Many executors simply rely on outside professionals to take care of matters like asset appraisal, accounting, tax preparation, or brokerage needs for securities or other investments. What you do have to have, however, is a commitment to upholding your fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries.
What Does the Executor Do?
The executor’s responsibilities are many. They can vary, of course, since some estates are more complex than others. As a rule, however, every executor must:
- Petition the court for recognition as an executor. Without that recognition, the executor will have no authority to manage assets or complete any of the other probate tasks.
- Identify the decedent’s assets and properly manage them. That includes bank accounts, securities, and real property that may need to be secured.
- Have the assets appraised to determine the value of the estate. Prepare an inventory and submit it to the court and any beneficiaries.
- Open a checking account for the estate, and use that account for the decedent’s assets. Some assets may need to be liquidated to ensure that there is money available to pay any debts or taxes that might be due.
- Provide notification of the decedent’s death to all beneficiaries and potential creditors. Anyone who stands to inherit from the will needs to be notified. For creditors, specific notification should be sent to all known creditors, while a simple notice in a local newspaper can be sufficient for serving notice to unknown creditors.
- As creditor claims come in, evaluate them for merit. Valid claims should be paid using assets from the estate.
- Prepare the decedent’s final tax returns for both state and federal taxes, as well as any estate taxes that might be due. Where taxes are owed, they should be paid using the decedent’s assets.
- Continue to pay any ongoing payments, such as mortgage payments, utilities, and so on.
- When debts and taxes are paid, notify the court so that assets can be distributed to heirs. Supervise that distribution to ensure that assets get to the heirs named in the will.
- Submit a final accounting to the court, along with a request to formally close probate. Once the court issues that order, the estate is considered settled and your job is done.
Obviously, that’s a simplified and cursory look at the executor’s responsibilities. There are other things to consider, of course, and many of these tasks may take a great deal of time and effort to complete. For example, tracking down assets can be a simple matter in some instances – but it can also be a tedious ordeal in cases where the decedent’s records are less than orderly. Each estate brings its own unique challenges to bear.
Moreover, you may find yourself dealing with a host of personal conflicts as well. There may be disputes with creditors that need to be resolved. Some beneficiaries may be upset with the provisions in the will or your performance as executor. You may even have heirs or would-be heirs challenging the will in court. In some instances, heirs have petitioned courts to seek the removal of an executor, simply because those heirs felt that the process was taking too long.
You may also need to hire individuals with specific skill sets needed to complete the probate process. You may have to hire an appraiser and other specialists to ensure that everything is done properly. Fortunately, you can hire those professionals using funds from the estate.
Getting the Legal Help You Need to Protect Yourself
It’s also important to remember that there is always the potential that you could make mistakes that leave you open to lawsuits from heirs – especially if an error results in a loss in asset values. It’s wise to consider how legal assistance might be able to provide you with protection from those mistakes and any liability that they might create. Again, you can hire an attorney at the estate’s expense, and should almost certainly consider that option to secure your own interests. It’s worth noting as well that your attorney can provide as little or as much help as you need, and can in some instances handle virtually every aspect of the probate process for you.
At the Fouts Law Group, LLC, our probate experts can help to ensure that your executor duties are carried out in a way that protects the estate, its beneficiaries, and you from any potential loss. We’ll work with you to guide you through the probate process, and help you get your loved one’s estate settled with a minimum of delays and complications. To find out how you can safeguard your interests while providing your loved one and his heirs the orderly estate settlement they deserve, contact us online or give us a call at (404) 596-7520 today.
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