The duties of the executor of an estate are well known by industry professionals, but not always well known by the laypersons who are appointed as executors. This leads to those executors making common mistakes that would be easily avoidable had they sought professional advice.
It is common for people to name a close relative or friend to be their estate's executor. Most people do it without thinking about it too much; it is just the way things are done.
However, when that friend or relative performs his or her duties avoidable mistakes are often made because they are not familiar with the process and do not seek professional advice.
The National Law Review discussed some of these mistakes in "Common Pitfalls Made by Executors of Estates," including:
- Many executors fail to get proper certification from the court before beginning their duties. A court must grant approval of the executor's assignment before the executor has legal authority to act.
- Executors often fail to notify all potential heirs to an estate and instead only notify those people mentioned in the will. This can lead to claims against the estate.
- Executors should open a bank account for the estate instead of using their own personal accounts.
- Executors often do not resist the temptation to distribute estate assets before claims against the estate are paid. This is especially troubling if assets are distributed before taxes are paid and can lead to personal liability for the executors.
- Executors are required to keep detailed and accurate records about how they handle estate assets. Many do not do so.
Bottom line: Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you select an appropriate fiduciary and get his or her permission before making it official. Moreover, make sure the fiduciary knows how and where to get professional guidance when needed.
Reference: National Law Review (May 13, 2016) "Common Pitfalls Made by Executors of Estates"