Serving as the executor for a friend or loved one comes with a long list of responsibilities. While performing these duties, it is also important to avoid missteps. Estate law experts provide advice about what not to do as an executor.
Act In The Best Interest of The Estate
Executors have a legal obligation, known as a fiduciary responsibility, to always act in the best interests of the estate. While most executors do not intentionally err, missteps and misperceptions can sometimes cause problems. Most families appoint executors who are themselves beneficiaries, and absent careful communication about the settlement of the estate throughout the probate process, other beneficiaries can be inclined to make assumptions about the actions and decisions of the executor. Grieving relations don’t always see as clearly as they might under normal circumstances, making it especially important for executors to be forthcoming and transparent in their interactions. Experts at Forbes offer this overview of what executors must avoid as they work to bring closure to the affairs of the estate:
An executor cannot do things that are not in the estate’s best interest. For example, the executor cannot put their own interests above those of the estate. The executor also cannot override the will (at least, not without a court hearing to determine, for example, that the will is invalid). Nor can the executor refuse to pay legitimate creditors or withhold a beneficiary’s inheritance. It probably goes without saying, but an executor cannot take money from the estate, and that includes distributing their own inheritance or paying themselves for the executor’s duties before the proper steps have been carried out, such as establishing the estate’s gross value and settling the estate’s debts and taxes.
Lawyers also remind us that as fiduciaries, executors have the legal obligation to ensure compliance with the state probate process. An executor bond may be required, guaranteeing duties are carried out in accordance with the law. An executor bond can be obtained quickly and efficiently, right here–and promptly e-filed with the court. Patience is an essential quality for executors: even as beneficiaries await swift delivery of the assets and gifts designated for them, executors must adhere to the public probate process. Debts must be paid before assets can be distributed. Though there is nothing inherently bad about probate, the process is likely to take some time—a year or so is fairly common. As time goes by, it’s critical for executors to keep communications flowing to beneficiaries, creditors, and the court. Silence can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts and even probate litigation. Throughout the probate process, the executor must accurately manage all of the assets of the estate. Experts caution:
The executor cannot sell the estate’s assets for less than market value, which means that getting assets independently appraised before selling them is often a good idea. For example, in selling off the estate’s assets, the executor cannot purchase the deceased’s residence for $100,000 when it is worth $300,000, a practice called self-dealing. If an executor sells property to themselves, it must be for fair market value. An executor also cannot co-mingle their own assets with the estate’s assets….An executor also cannot fail to do anything on the executor’s to-do checklist…. Potential repercussions for violating fiduciary duty in executing an estate include being removed as executor, being sued, getting fined, and serving jail time. Mistakes made in good faith are less likely to have severe repercussions than ones made out of carelessness, negligence, or self-interest.
The Right To Refuse—or Get Help
Given the responsibilities and time commitment involved in serving as an executor, attorneys advice careful consideration before accepting the designation. It’s all right to say no, and certainly best to do so rather than fail to perform the required duties. While no reason at all is needed to decline, Forbes lists these potential circumstances for doing so:
- You live far away from the deceased
- Heirs (or people who believe they should be heirs) seem likely to fight over the estate’s assets
- You are too grief-stricken to take on the job or in poor health
- You’ve been named co-executor of a will and you don’t get along with the other executor
- You’re not detail-oriented
- You’re too busy with other responsibilities, such as work or caregiving
It’s also acceptable to get professional help for the duties of execution and the associated expenses can be charged to the estate. In fact, experts point out:
“One of an executor’s duties is to know when handling all the estate’s affairs is beyond their abilities.” In addition to legal assistance, professional accounting services can be very useful, especially if challenges arise related to the disputed ownership of assets, business interests, royalties, out of state assets or complex investments.
Remember, Colonial Surety helps executors in every state quickly obtain required bonds—and avoid probate delays: 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. Obtain an Executor Bond Here.
Attorney? Bound For Surrogate Court?
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