Understand these things about being the executor of an estate

Closing out the estate of a loved one after their passing is easier said than done. You may assume that acting as an executor of an estate is straightforward, but you’ll soon come to find that nothing could be further from the truth.

You should understand what you’re getting into if you agree to be the executor of an estate. Before we go any further, remember this: You don’t have to agree to this. Even if you’d like to help a loved one out, you can always decline their invitation to act as executor.

Here are some things you need to remember :

  • It takes time: Don’t assume that it only takes a couple weeks to figure everything out. With a complex estate plan, for example, you could find yourself working as an executor for a year or longer. From phone calls to trips to the courthouse, there’s a lot on your plate.
  • You must have the right skills: Almost anyone can act as an executor, but having the right skills will go a long way in making the process easier on you. In addition to organizational skills, you should have a basic understanding of finances.
  • Your temperament is important: As the process unwinds, you’ll find yourself dealing with all sorts of people. Some of them are friendly. Some of them are mean. And some of them are looking to take advantage of you. An even temperament allows you to deal with anyone and everyone you come in contact with.
  • Legal knowledge can help: You don’t need a law degree to act as an executor, but it helps if you have a basic understanding of probate and/or trust administration.

When you understand these points, it’s easier to decide for or against taking on the responsibility of an executor.

If you’re going through this process and have questions, take a step back to get an overview of your situation. The last thing you want to do is make a rash decision, as you could be held personally liable for any mistake.

Acting as an executor is a big responsibility, so treat it as such. If you require any additional information, such as the steps you should take, visit our website for assistance.

5 mistakes estate executors must avoid

As the executor of an estate, you’re staffed with more responsibilities than you probably realize. By taking a high level overview of the situation early on, you’ll soon understand what you’re up against and how to move through the process in an efficient manner.

The one thing you never want to do is make a costly mistake. Fortunately, when you protect against these in advance, there’s less chance of running into trouble.

Here are five mistakes estate executors must avoid :

  • Agreeing to be the executor if you’re not comfortable: When someone asks you to be the executor of their estate, you have the right to say no. You don’t have to agree, even if you’re close with the person. Furthermore, even if you do agree, you can still turn down the responsibility when the time comes.
  • Neglecting to review the trust or will in great detail: You shouldn’t do anything as an executor until you are 100 percent sure of what the trust or will says. If there is any gray area, clear it up before pushing forward.
  • Jumping the gun with distributions: You’re in a hurry to complete the process, so it’s easy to get ahead of yourself by making distributions too soon. For example, if you make distributions before paying all liabilities, you could be held personally responsible.
  • Forgetting to advertise the estate: It’s common to overlook this detail, but it’s your job to advertise the estate so that creditors understand what’s happening and how to take action.
  • Neglecting to close out the estate: You put so much time into the process itself that you forget to close everything down at the end. For instance, you may need to go through the court system so a judge can approve all of the distributions you’ve made.

Even though these potential mistakes are scary, with the right approach you should be able to hedge them off before they become a problem.

It’s a big responsibility, as well as a great honor, to act as the executor of an estate . When the time comes to take action, learn more about the process, your responsibilities and your legal rights. The knowledge you gather will help you every step of the way.

Will executor questions: These may be on your mind

It doesn’t matter if you’re acting as the executor of a will or choosing someone for this responsibility, it goes without saying that you’ll have some questions to answer.

The more information and knowledge you collect, the easier it becomes to proceed with confidence.

To start, it’s important to understand the primary responsibilities of an executor.

In short, an executor is a person named in a will who has the legal authority to take care of the deceased individual’s remaining financial obligations. These obligations can include but are not limited to the following:

  • Distributing all assets to the appropriate individuals, as outlined in the will
  • Paying any taxes or bills for the estate
  • Maintaining all property until the estate passes over to the beneficiaries
  • Making all necessary court appearances on behalf of the estate

Can an executor say no?

Just because a person is named as an executor in a will doesn’t mean he or she has to take on the responsibility. The individual has the legal right to decline for any reason.

Furthermore, even if a person originally accepts the role of executor, he or she can quit on the process at any time, thus forcing the court to name a replacement.

Is there compensation for acting as an executor?

While not always the case, most people perform the responsibilities of an executor free of charge. However, this person is allowed to seek payment.

The reason why this is uncommon is that most people name a close family member, such as a spouse or an adult child, as the executor of their will.

Can an executor do everything on his or her own?

Even though an executor has many duties, it doesn’t mean he or she can handle everything that comes one’s way without outside assistance.

Even in the event of a routine will, it takes a special level of knowledge in order to make all the right decisions along the way. This is why many executors consult with an experienced legal team.

If you’ve been named the executor of a will and it’s time to take on your responsibilities, learn more about probate , the tasks you need to handle and how to prevent common mistakes.

How to remove an executor of an estate

Change is something that is inevitable when it comes to contending with an estate and probate. If you are dealing with the prospect of probate after a loved one has passed away, it is likely that you have come across outdated wishes and a set-up that is no longer appropriate to the situation.

It is also quite common for loved ones of a deceased person to have issues with the executor of the will. You may feel that he or she is acting in one’s own interests, being manipulative, or that he or she is not fulfilling duties as the person is required to do. While a living person can effortlessly remove an executor of one’s will, it becomes considerably more difficult for a loved one to do this after a will maker’s death. However, there are certain situations where it is possible.

What are the duties of an executor of an estate?

An executor of an estate has a large amount of responsibility to make sure that the person in question has last wishes fulfilled after death. The executor does not need to be a legal expert, but he or she must put in adequate effort to be diligent and competent, as well as act with honesty at all times.

After the death of the will maker, the executor of the estate should identify all assets and decide whether going through probate is necessary. The executor should then contact all beneficiaries of the will and make sure the will is appropriately filed in probate court.

On what grounds can I remove an executor of an estate?

If you can show that an executor is not carrying out his or her duties or that the individual is acting dishonestly, you may be able to have him or her removed. In order to do this, you must have a stake in the assets and file a court proceeding stating why the executor should be removed. You should also request an estate audit so that your case and evidence can be strengthened.

If you would like to remove the executor of a loved one’s estate in New York, it is important to establish good reasons for wanting to do so.

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.

Named as an executor? There are online resources that can help

Have you recently found yourself in the position of executor after a loved one passed? If so, you may be wondering what exactly it is you are supposed to do. Many people find themselves in such a position. Often, they do not know what they need to do with respect to moving the decedent’s will through probate. Typically, they are also dealing with the emotional turmoil that comes with losing a loved one.

Fortunately, some of the answers and tools you need may be only a mouse click away. While a probate attorney can help you with the legal aspects of settling a will in New York, the internet offers plenty of tools to help you keep things organized while administering an estate .

By utilizing some online tools , you may be able to simplify an arduous and time-consuming process. Combining this with the advice of an attorney will help you to navigate the probate process in a more efficient manner.

Shared access

Some of the online options available to help you stay organized offer shared access with other family members, beneficiaries and your probate attorney. This will help keep the process transparent for the family so that you can avoid the mistrust that beneficiaries might direct toward you if they are not kept in the loop at all times.

Pre-determined checklist

Another feature of some of these online tools is that they provide an estimated timeline and a checklist of tasks you must complete. Usually these lists include items you need to do such as making funeral arrangements, locating the will, obtaining copies of the death certificate, filing the estate tax return and various other duties.

Tips and advice

You can also find tips and advice for some of the duties you must fulfill. For example, you may be able to find tips on how to obtain official copies of the death certificate or how best to keep track of the estate’s assets during the probate process.

The duties of an executor can often take more time than you originally expected. In addition, some of the tasks can often seem overly complicated or confusing. In order to reduce stress, save time and stay organized, you should utilize every tool available. This includes your probate attorney and perhaps an online tool that offers some of the above features.

Trust structures may help with asset management

New Yorkers who want to ensure their possessions are managed properly may rely on wills and similar documents, but living trusts offer an alternative. These structures are notable in that their grantors can name themselves trustees and thus manage the assets they want to safeguard. In addition, other trusts, such as spendthrift trusts, can be included in a living trust so that beneficiaries are explicitly looked after.

Living trusts are exempt from some of the legal requirements associated with wills. For instance, they can often be set up with fewer official procedures, and modifications don’t usually need to be witnessed. Those with complex arrangements might benefit as well; unlike will executors, their trustees can be based in other jurisdictions.

Living trusts can be employed with many goals in mind. Real estate developers and businesspeople may include trust assets such as tenancy properties that can then be overseen by their trustees. When used to benefit family members following a death, trusts can ensure a predetermined division of assets takes place as intended. The fact that probate courts generally don’t get involved in the process means that assets passed along by grantors are continuously owned even if beneficiaries die or other unexpected events occur.

Living trusts can be complex, especially when they involve specific intents or uncommon asset structures. While these trusts are generally easier to draft than wills, failing to account for the laws that apply to particular property types may ultimately render an arrangement ineffective or liable for unforeseen taxes. Some New York property owners find it advantageous to investigate the legal ramifications of the different kinds of trust schemes they can enact before getting started.

Source:  American Bar Association , ” Living Trusts “, November 02, 2014

Liability for debts of the deceased

Residents of New York who have recently lost a loved one may wonder what debts they could be liable for repaying. The first question to be answered is who is responsible for the financial administration of an estate. If there is a will, an executor should be named. If there is no executor, the state will appoint someone to oversee a deceased person’s financial affairs. This person is called the administrator and is chosen in part by their relationship to the person who has died. Generally, the surviving spouse and children are the first ones asked.

In general, debts must be paid with what remains of the estate. However, the debts do not always pass to anyone else if they cannot be paid. In these cases, creditors simply have to write off the debts of the deceased as losses most of the time.

There are a few exceptions to avoiding the inheritance of someone’s debts. Some states require the surviving spouse to pay some types of debt, but these tend to be debts related to Medicaid and health care and not credit cards. Community property laws could leave spouses liable for more debts, but New York does not have those laws. Technically, the adult child of a parent who could not pay for long-term care may be liable for that bill in some states, but that law is rarely invoked. Finally, executors or administrators who do not act within certain legal boundaries may be responsible for debts.

Individuals should be aware of their rights if collection agencies try to make them pay for the debts of the deceased. Furthermore, collection agencies discussing debts with anyone except a spouse or the parents of a deceased minor is illegal, and the Federal Trade Commission should be notified in such circumstances. If there is a question of whether or not someone’s debt is inheritable, an estate planning attorney may be able to assist in determining the answer.

Source:  The Motley Fool, ” What Happens to Credit Card Debt When Someone Dies “, Peter Andrew , July 19, 2014

Common estate planning mistakes to avoid

Estate planning is a very important process that should not be taken lightly as improper planning can cause tension and stress between family members after you pass away. 

Unfortunately, even the best intended estate plans may still lead to disputes after you’re gone due to mistakes made in the estate plan. There are many different considerations to make when creating your estate plan and it can be easy to make a mistake.

Individuals and families creating an estate plan or those who already have an estate plan should be aware of common estate planning mistakes and take steps to fix them before it’s too late.

What are the most common estate planning mistakes? Some of the most common errors are listed below.

Failing to address and plan for estate taxes is a very common mistake. Creating a trust or giving gifts to heirs can help address some issues with estate taxes. Estate taxes can be difficult to plan for, which is why it is important to consult an estate planning attorney. 

Another common mistake is choosing the wrong executor for your estate plan. Do not choose someone to be the executor of your will and other estate planning documents if they have a conflict of interest. It may be best to choose someone who will be unbiased instead of a relative who is also a beneficiary. 

Financial documents should be organized with notes on how and where to access each account. Many estate plans fail to organize their financial documents and family members have a difficult time gaining access to these accounts and may not even know that some financial accounts exist.

Failing to update estate plans is a very common mistake and can lead to many disputes in the future. Any time there is a change to the family through marriage, divorce, death and new children, the estate plan should be reviewed and updated as necessary. If estate plans are not updated, an ex spouse could still be a beneficiary in the estate plan and cause disputes and hurt feelings after your death.

There are many other types of estate planning mistakes that individuals should be aware of. Individuals should consult an estate planning attorney to create or review their estate plan to make sure their estate plan is accurate and up to date. 

Source:  US News, ” Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini ,” Kimberly Palmer, July 16, 2013