An appointed or named executor has a seemingly endless list of tasks to perform, but assembling an appropriate team of advisors can help avoid many pitfalls. Here is a tally of ways to avoid the largest of the pitfalls, compiled by numerous horror stories.
- Do not hire your real estate attorney to probate the will.
- Chances are that he most likely is not well-versed in probate law.
- Do not ignore the beneficiaries.
- They are the ones to whom you owe a fiduciary duty, so they will not go away until your tasks and duties are fulfilled.
- Do not think you are all powerful.
- You might have gotten the job by being the testator’s favorite niece or nephew, but the actual business of the estate takes a certain level of humility.
- Do not fail to act.
- Estate need to be closed, and the sooner the better for everyone involved. And ignoring the responsibilities does not close it!
- Do not fail to speak with your attorney because you are concerned about lawyers’ fees.
- Properly handling an estate can get expensive, and some tasks that can be done by yourself should be to save on fees. But also rely on your attorney’s advice.
- Do not favor one beneficiary over the others.
- If the testator did not favor one of the beneficiaries, you certainly cannot. This can get you removed as executor.
- Do not resort to self-dealing.
- Though some of the estate’s more enticing assets may seem within reach with just a little tweaking, any sort of personal gain would most likely be a breach of your fiduciary duty.
- Do not forget you have personal liability.
- “With great power comes great responsibility.” Thus, if you make a irreparable mistake, you may be held responsible for the consequences.
See Christine Fletcher, How to Avoid the 8 Biggest Executor Mistakes, Forbes, April 11, 2019.