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Tips to avoid probate and challenges as an executor of an estate

Being the executor of an estate is often a thankless job. The person whose estate you are handling, the testator, may have included a provision for financial compensation for your efforts. When you consider the stress, work and strain on relationships that can result from handling an estate, however, the amount may not seem like enough. Sometimes, being an executor results in no compensation whatsoever.

Regardless of whether or not you're being paid, you probably want to do the best you can to uphold the last wishes of the testator. Sadly, other people, especially family members and heirs, may take issue with your actions.

Even when you follow an estate plan or will exactly, some people just won't be happy with the outcome. When that happens, it's possible for the estate or your position as executor, to end up challenged in probate court. There are certain things you can do to lessen the possibility of these kinds of challenges.

Get professional help and follow the will exactly

No matter how strange a provision in an estate plan or last will may seem, it is your job as executor to comply with the requests made, as long as they are legal. Sometimes, the language in an estate plan or last will can seem either confusing or unclear. When that happens, you should talk to someone with experience in interpreting last wills and estate plans.

Once you understand the requirements and expectations of the testator, you need to make sure that you do exactly what was asked of you. While you may think you have a creative solution that could make settling the estate better for everyone involved, you should stick to the instructions provided for you.

Document everything that you do

Did you pay the last power bill for a home before turning it off and prepping the home for sale? Make sure you have records of both the payment and the request to disconnect. Did you disburse funds to an heir or a charity named in the will? Document everything. Ideally, funds disbursed will be in check form, which allows for a direct paper trail and proof.

For non-monetary assets, consider having each heir sign a document confirming receipt of the assets. This way, if there is a challenge of any sort, you can prove that you have been handling the estate as requested.

Share the documentation with heirs and family members

If heirs aren't already familiar with the terms of the will or estate plan, make copies and share it. Make sure everyone who has an expectation regarding the estate understands what they will actually receive. Doing that can prevent sudden shocks and accusations of wasting assets or refusing to provide an inheritance to certain heirs or family members.

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