Options in appointing an executor

While many New York residents choose to appoint relatives or close friends to manage their estates after they die, there may be situations in which an individual or couple has no trusted party to appoint. Examples might include couples without children, unmarried individuals without close family, or families experiencing serious conflict over parents’ assets and end-of-life plans. Deciding how to have one’s estate administered could make the difference in ensuring a smooth transfer of assets rather than creating fuel for a huge court battle.

In particular, couples leaving everything to the surviving spouse in case of the death of one should ensure that both partners have meticulous records of relevant accounts. If one spouse tends to handle financial activity more than the other, the less involved party may need to be walked through what to do if the other perishes. There should also be a provision for managing the estate in case of both spouses expiring simultaneously. It is important to recognize that the executor of a will is entitled to collect a fee for their services. A relative might refuse to charge such a fee, but an objective third party is more likely to collect this fee.

Experts note that word-of-mouth recommendations can be helpful in searching for a professional to handle the task of overseeing one’s estate plan. It may also be helpful to explore options such as living trusts for managing resources both during one’s life and after death. Trust administration might be preferable in cases involving certain types of assets or significant amounts of wealth.

Periodic reviews of estate plans can ensure that any important life changes are incorporated into the legal documents. An estate planning lawyer can be of assistance in this regard.

How executors can protect themselves

Many people in New York may feel honored when they find out that they’ve been asked to be the executor of a will. Unfortunately, some executors find themselves in legal trouble after making mistakes while attempting to manage an estate.

Some legal experts point out that many will executors are not legal professionals and have little or no experience in managing an estate or trust administration . There have been cases in which executors have been sued by heirs , and if the court decides that an executor has in fact made a mistake in handling the estate, the executor may be personally liable for court costs and any damages. This can cause havoc on the executor’s personal finances.

Executors can protect themselves against lawsuits by taking some basic steps. The first would be to keep extremely careful records of all activities surrounding the disposal of the estate. Executors should keep records of conversations that they’ve had with heirs and keep all receipts, contracts, and other documentation that have been a part of estate management.

Another thing that executors can do is open a separate bank account for estate transactions. This not only demonstrates the executor’s integrity, but it also makes bookkeeping much easier. Finally, executors should ensure that they notify all creditors and heirs as soon as possible after someone dies. This allows everyone who has a claim against the estate to make it in a timely fashion.

Executors who are unsure of their role in handling an estate may benefit from speaking with an attorney. The lawyer may be able to review the will and provide the executor with support and advice regarding his or her responsibilities.

Dealing with inappropriate administration of a will

It is not uncommon for there to be differences of opinion in the administration of a will under New York law. Broad powers have been invested in the executor that is appointed under a will. However, with these powers come serious legal responsibilities. Failure to properly perform the duties may lead to legal action and in some cases personal financial responsibility. The probate court also has the power to remove an executor.

The executor of a will is required by law to maintain thorough records. Executors must carry out the provisions of the will and comply in all other ways with both the law and the last wishes of the deceased. They may not simply seize property for themselves or dispose of it without making a fair valuation and proper record of the sale. Executors must remember that they have fiduciary duties that extend to all of the will’s beneficiaries.

There is a natural unwillingness to invoke legal authority against the executor of a will, as in many cases that role is filled by a close member of the family. However, it is best to speak out against improper administration before it is too late and the entire estate has been inappropriately distributed.

It should be noted that even under the best of conditions and with the best intentions, executors sometimes make mistakes. They are not expected to be financial or legal professionals, and in fact they are entitled to seek the advice and counsel of a probate attorney when they need guidance on a particular matter.

Source: Market Watch, “My secretive sister has taken control of our mother’s estate”, Quentin Fottrell, May 10, 2016

Deciding to be an executor

Many people in New York feel flattered when someone asked them to be the executor of the will. Being trusted enough to handle a friend or family member’s posthumous affairs is indeed an honor. However, it’s important for prospective executors to fully understand the possible ramifications of the position.

An executor has several responsibilities. One is ensuring that the decedent’s assets are distributed according to the terms of the will. Others include paying off existing debts owed by the decedent, filing the decedent’s final personal income tax return and paying amounts that are owed to the IRS. Depending upon the size of the estate, federal and state estate taxes may be owed as well.

While all this may sound straightforward, the ability to efficiently settle an estate is often dependent on how well the decedent prepared for his or her eventual demise. If the will is not straightforward about the location of assets, or how assets such as jewelry and family heirlooms are to be distributed, the executor may be caught up in a web of paperwork and family squabbles.

Unfortunately, there been situations in which executors have suffered extreme stress, financial losses and even lawsuits. Litigation can result when a beneficiary of the will doesn’t believe that the executor has done a good job of handling the estate. Executors can also be personally responsible if the estate has been distributed prior to creditors or taxes being paid.

Because of the responsibilities involved, it is important for people to carefully consider whether they want to be an executor under a will. However, they are not expected to be experts, and they are entitled to retain the services of an experienced probate attorney when questions arise.