Tips for the Executor of Estate

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The position of executor (executrix when female) is not an easy one, even if an estate is fairly small and straightforward. The entire family is stressed and mourning, and often uninformed about the process of settling an estate. The process can range from time consuming and tedious to time consuming and nightmarish, depending on how well everyone gets along. Note that the process is always time consuming. One thing that can save the entire family a great deal of strain is to make sure everyone understands the legal responsibilities of the executor.

Executors should immediately read Executor of Estate’s list of what not to do. Even a simple gesture, such as letting someone borrow the deceased’s car, however well-intentioned that gesture may be, can cause major problems later.

Primary Duties of the Executor

Basically, the executor controls the estate for the purpose of paying off debts, paying final taxes, and distributing inheritances to beneficiaries as designated by a will. If no will exists, no one has been named by the deceased and therefore the court will appoint and supervise an individual (can be someone with an interest in the estate who has petitioned to be named administrator).

The executor or trustee is responsible for all record keeping and should expect to attend court dates pertaining to probate, if applicable. He must file the will with the courts, and when authorized, must get a full valuation of assets belonging to the estate, e.g. any money or property that does not pass directly to named beneficiaries, such as antique collections or furniture (generally the house and its contents, plus accounts that are not pay-on-death). If there is any conflict or potential for conflict surrounding the estate, the list may have to be detailed down to each half-gnawed dog toy and hairpin. Under more cooperative circumstances, and after consulting legal and financial professionals for guidelines, putting together a valuation is not quite so difficult.

After debts have been settled the executor may then distribute assets according to the provisions of the will. This part of the process may include selling property and other miscellaneous tasks to ensure that each beneficiary receives the portion of the estate named.

Hiring a Probate Lawyer and CPA

If the estate is in probate, the most important person an executor needs is a probate attorney. This, above all else can prevent issues that increase the complexity of closing the estate, or worse, land the executor in trouble. The sole purpose of a probate attorney is to guide the executor, and by extension, the family, through the process of probate and ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible. Probate can take months, even years if something goes wrong. The expense of hiring a good probate attorney is a worthwhile investment.

Filing the final return for the deceased and the deceased’s estate can be complicated. Getting the assistance of a tax professional is also well worth any cost if the estate is large or complex. A CPA will be able to identify whether or not estate tax will be owed, and if so, will be able to help identify any deductions allowed against that tax.

Typically, the fees for attorneys or tax professionals helping settle an estate will come from the estate itself, unless the family chooses otherwise. The executor is not financially responsible for settling the estate’s affairs.