When a will is made, the creator designates a fiduciary, typically referred to as an executor, to see that it is carried out in accordance with state probate protocols. During probate, it is critical for executors to exceed expectations when it comes to transparency and communications with beneficiaries. Here are pointers from attorneys.
Avoid Surprises—and Conflicts
It is not uncommon for executors, sometimes referred to as personal representatives, to become overwhelmed by their duties. Far from being a ceremonial honor, the role of executor comes with many duties, ranging from filing forms in probate court, to settling debts and arranging for the appraisal of assets—all of which must be done before assets are distributed to beneficiaries. Although many states have developed expedited probate processes, moving through the protocols can still take some time, even if the estate has been well organized. Unpaid taxes, debts and conflicts among family members can contribute to complexities and delays during probate. Given the access executors have to the accounts and affairs of the estate, attorneys emphasize the importance of high levels of transparency and communication in carrying out their responsibilities throughout the probate process. In fact, for executors and personal representatives, over-communication is best: grief can trigger surprising behavior in families, especially when coupled with misunderstandings and information gaps. Experts at Cushing & Dolan offer these specific pointers:
The personal representative is expected to operate in the best interests of the heirs and the estate. Part of their responsibility is to notify all parties with an interest in the estate of what they are entitled to. Beneficiaries have a right to ensure that the executor manages the estate properly. A lack of cooperation or communication is not a good sign….Because of the complexity of probate, the process may take months to complete before the beneficiaries receive their share of the estate. In addition, executors must settle debts with creditors and pay taxes and probate fees before the beneficiaries receive anything. However, a personal representative cannot intentionally delay or withhold distributing assets for personal reasons, such as to punish a beneficiary.
Because executors and personal representatives have a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of the estate and beneficiaries, they must avoid conflicts of interest. That’s why probate courts and estates often request an executor bond or personal representative bond. Essentially, these fiduciary bonds serve as a guarantee that duties will be conducted in accordance with the law. Colonial Surety helps executors and personal representatives in every state quickly obtain their required bonds. At Colonial, the steps to obtaining executor bonds or personal representative 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.
Asset Inventories and Sales
In many families, a home is the most valuable asset, making it common for wills to indicate that adult children are to benefit equally from it. Thus, property appraisals and sales are tasks that weigh heavily on executors and personal representatives. Estate lawyers remind fiduciaries that to avoid misunderstandings associated with these duties, it is important to adhere to state probate protocols detailing the timing and steps, while also continuously communicating with beneficiaries. For example, although fiduciaries may accept the best offer on a sale, conflicts can arise over market value. Disagreements and lack of trust in the designated fiduciary can lead to costly and time consuming litigation, which attorneys urge families to avoid: “This situation typically occurs when the fiduciary is a poor communicator, is unskilled at following instructions, procrastinates, is untrustworthy, is susceptible to the influence of others, is disorganized, or lacks common sense.” While managing the affairs of the estate, executors who communicate transparently and frequently spare families from a great deal of heartache.
Good To Know: Executor, Administrator, Representative?
The terms administrator, personal representative and executor are frequently interchanged, with preferences determined by circumstance and state—but all have similar fiduciary responsibilities. For example, the term administrator is often used when there is no will, and the court appoints a family member, friend or professional to bring affairs to closure in accordance with the state laws of intestacy. Regardless of the terms and location involved in closing an estate, Colonial Surety provides the required bonds for fiduciaries quickly and easily:
Estate Law? Let’s Partner!
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Founded in 1930, Colonial Surety Company is a direct writer of surety bonds and insurance products. Colonial is rated “A Excellent” by A.M. Best Company, U.S. Treasury listed, and licensed for business everywhere in the USA.