Top Executor Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Being named as the executor for someone’s estate is a major responsibility and sometimes a major time commitment. In addition, it’s easy to make a mistake if you’re not careful or you don’t get professional help. To help you avoid making these mistakes, we have put together a list of common mistakes that executors often make when handling estate matters.

Common Executor Mistakes When Administering an Estate

  1. Not knowing what you’re signing up for – Being an executor of an estate can be a difficult and complicated job. Typically, there can be a lot of paperwork and legal rules to follow in handling the estate, depending upon its size and complexity. Further, you can be held personally liable if you fail to execute your duties properly. Before you agree to be the executor of someone’s estate, it’s best to make sure you understand what’s involved and you are confident that you’re fully prepared to assume the responsibility.
  2. Not paying attention to probate requirements – Putting off filing necessary court documents or distributing assets to the deceased’s beneficiaries can create litigation claims, so it is often wise to recruit professional legal help if you’re concerned about meeting your deadlines or responsibilities.
  3. Not understanding what an executor’s job is – There are a handful of specific duties that come with being named the executor of an estate: Filing and validating the deceased’s will and related documents, providing heirs and creditors with proper notice, handling claims against the estate, and distributing estate assets according to the decedent’s instructions are just a few of the duties in probate. You will want to understand your duties and the time frame for performance of those obligations. 
  4. Not keeping beneficiaries up to date – Closing someone’s estate can take some time, and it’s important that beneficiaries are given necessary information on the progress of closing the estate as it moves through the probate process. This will keep them informed and also protect you from allegations by beneficiaries that you are not performing your statutory duty to provide information.
  5. Favoring one beneficiary over another – Of course, it doesn’t matter what you think about how someone’s estate should be handled after they die. Your duty is to stick to the instructions left by the deceased in their will to avoid problems. Favoring one beneficiary over another could lead to legal claims from other beneficiaries.
  6. Failing to make the portability election – The portability election allows a surviving spouse to make use of their deceased spouse’s federal estate tax exemption, which will enable them to shield more of the estate assets from taxation. However, as the executor of the estate, it’s up to you to submit a written request for this exemption. Failing to do so could be costly for the deceased’s surviving spouse.
  7. Resorting to self-dealing – Self-dealing occurs when you take self-serving actions that allow you to benefit from the estate (apart from any specific bequests made to you by the decedent). Such fraudulent efforts can expose you to civil and criminal legal liability.  
  8. Making distributions too early – You are not allowed to distribute any assets from the estate to the deceased’s beneficiaries until you are certain that all relevant taxes have been paid and all the decedent’s debts have been resolved. If you distribute assets too early and there are additional claims made against the estate, you could be held personally liable.
  9. Not properly closing the estate – You are responsible for completing all necessary filings with the court, including a final accounting and a formal request to close the estate.
  10. Trying to do it alone – Being the executor of an estate is a demanding job. Even inadvertent errors can expose you to legal liabilities. As such, it is often a wise decision to seek help from an experienced estate lawyer.  

How Our Attorneys Can Help You

An experienced estate attorney from Business Estate & Tax Attorneys, P.C. will understand the challenges you face when serving as the executor of an estate.  We can advise you on the probate process, help you take care of the deceased’s debts and taxes, distribute assets to beneficiaries, and defend you in litigation if there is a dispute over your handling of the estate. Please contact our office for a confidential, a consultation.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general purposes only, and it is not intended as a substitute for legal advice.