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If a family member has named you as the executor to his or her estate, you are responsible for gathering the estate’s assets, paying debts and distributing property to beneficiaries. Unfortunately, errors in this process can result in significant time and expense.

Before commencing your duties as executor, be aware of these common problems to avoid.

Paying bills hastily

Although it may seem responsible to pay your deceased family member’s bills as soon as they arrive, doing so subverts your fiduciary duty as executor. That is because federal law applies priority order for estate debts. Federal and state income tax debt is the most pressing, while household bills are actually relatively low on the list. Get organized before paying anything out of estate accounts.

Limiting contact with beneficiaries

Processing a sizable estate takes time. However, you should update the person’s beneficiaries throughout the process so they know where they stand. If a beneficiary thinks you are not fulfilling your duties as executor, he or she can ask the court to appoint someone else.

Taking sides

If other family members conflict with one another about the estate, your job as the executor is to remain neutral. Stay out of the drama and focus on fulfilling your deceased loved one’s wishes. Avoid favoring one beneficiary over another, no matter how contentious he or she may be during the process.

Mishandling real estate

If the person’s estate includes real property, unique challenges arise for the executor. Should you sell the home? Are improvements required? Did a family member inherit the property? Seeking legal help for these questions as well as advice from an experienced real estate agent can help you avoid the common pitfalls of administering this type of asset.

Choosing the right executor is one of the most important tasks of the estate planning process. Live up to the job by helping to fulfill your loved one’s last wishes judiciously and fairly.