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Defending your position as executor of an estate

Being the executor of an estate is a dubious honor. On the one hand, someone you cared for and probably respected believed that you were trustworthy and intelligent enough to handle the estate. After all, it's a complex process. On the other hand, it's a lot of work and stress, often without any kind of extra compensation. Being an executor can strain or even destroy your familial relationships, especially if people in your family don't think the last will or estate plan was fair to them.

You may think that your siblings or cousins will behave rationally, but money can bring out the worst in people. There's a saying that blood is thicker than water, but money is thicker than blood. Many families have gotten torn apart by infighting over assets during the administration of an estate. If other heirs or family members want a bigger chunk of the assets, they could try dragging it into probate court and even challenging your position as executor.

Executor challenges exist for a reason

Some people simply let greed get the better of them, while others are just unable to fulfill duties. There are a million valid reasons why family members or heirs would want to challenge an executor. Perhaps the executor lives out of state and can't come to handle things in a reasonable timeframe. Maybe the executor has done questionable things, like selling property for much less than market value to friends. It's even possible that assets could come up missing.

When that happens, being able to challenge an executor can protect heirs against getting defrauded. New York probate courts can determine if the executor has failed to perform the duties of the position adequately. If that happens, a new executor or administrator could get appointed by the courts.

Being proactive protects your position

Although getting named executor may mean a lot of thankless work, it can also help you achieve closure. You may feel like you're helping fulfill the last wishes of someone you loved, which can help with the grief process. The last thing you need is to face a challenge in court. Taking steps early on to protect yourself is the best option.

As soon as possible, release copies of the last will, estate plan or trust to heirs and family members. This way they can see you're doing the right things. Make a list of assets and debts, and try to get fair prices for all assets. Make sure all financial transactions are handled through the estate's checking account, which will provide a concrete record if needed in court. Be sure to keep receipts and records of everything from appraisals to tax payments.

Once you have settled all the estate's debts and filed the final tax return for the deceased, you should send notice to heirs and beneficiaries. Once all the remaining assets have gotten divided, make a point of retaining the records. That way, in case someone complains at a later date, you can prove you followed protocol.

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