When you execute the will of a family member or friend, you are likely to find yourself coping with high levels of emotion as well as the legalities of the probate process, as you honor your fiduciary responsibilities. Estate experts advise communication-lots of it!
End Goal: Everyone’s Still Talking
Understandably, emotions run high when there is a death in the family. That’s why sparks can fly so easily over something as small as say, who gets the flower vase. Your own emotions may be raw too, even as you manage your duties as executor. Be mindful that little tiffs set in motion over the claiming of personal belongings can easily cause big eruptions at this sensitive time. Mix in the potential for jealously and resentment, and well—this is the stuff dramas are made of, right?
To prevent conflicts from escalating, executors are advised to be highly communicative as they undertake their duties. As Steffi Gascón Hafen, an estate planning attorney in San Diego explains: “Most of the conflict that I see happen — it all comes from mistrust… and it comes from either lack of transparency or a seeming lack of transparency.”
Experts also advise executors not to rush, even when everyone expects fast answers. As the executor, remember, you have a fiduciary obligation to provide an accurate accounting for the estate to the beneficiaries—and ultimately to the probate court. Doing so, requires being thoughtful, detail oriented—and communicative along the way. When everything is settled, as one estate expert sums up in AARP: “If you’re all still talking, you’ve done a good job….”
Though the process differs a little bit in each state, generally, as executor, you must file the death certificate with an original copy of the will in probate court. You will then be given a letter of testamentary. This officially recognizes you as the executor and enables you to begin taking actions on behalf of the estate. Executors have a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of the estate and beneficiaries, avoiding conflicts of interest. That’s why probate courts sometimes request executors to obtain a type of fiduciary bond known as an executor or estate bond.
When a bond is requested during the probate process, it’s important to obtain it quickly, to avoid delays. Let Colonial Surety Company, a leading national fiduciary bond provider, help. At Colonial, the steps to obtaining executor and other bonds are quick and easy: get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter the payment method. Instantly print or e-file the bond right from anywhere—even probate court.
When it comes to distributing the kind of every day belongings and household items or memorabilia that may not be detailed in a will, Boston attorney William D. Kirchick, president of the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils offers this practical advice:
Allocating assets can be tense. Ensure the process is fair by putting a system in place, such as switching who goes first each round when dividing possessions. Tight-knit families can fight about who gets which sentimental items, such as Grandma’s old candy dish. The smallest items of value could cause the most amount of aggravation for the executor….
In ideal circumstances, you and your loved ones will have had plenty of opportunity to review both intentions and practical matters—like the whereabouts of documents, accounts and passwords before you actually begin service as the executor. Most states now offer expedited probate processes which can speed the way too, with estates being settled—and assets distributed to their rightful heirs in a year or less. Generally, it is only unusual circumstances, including unpaid taxes, unforeseen debt, conflicts among family members or contested wills that cause complexities and delays during probate.
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