The Executor Adviser is an advice column created by Executor.org for Legacy. Executor.org's experts aim to help readers with questions about executorship and provide comprehensive, free online resources to guide executors through this complex process.
It’s no secret that serving as an executor requires a lot from you. On top of all the official executor duties, you are likely also grieving the loss of your loved one. Sometimes it can all get to be too much and you can easily make a mistake or miss an important deadline.
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We created Executor.org to help keep executors on track, organized, and informed about all that needs to be done. Our site not only helps you know what to do, but also what not to do. In general, you are better off moving forward in an organized fashion so that you don't make a costly mistake, particularly given that you have legal liability in this role. Here are some ways executors can go wrong:
- You fail to get help when you need it. Most people serving in the executor role have no formal training for their job as executor. But don’t worry, you don’t have to go it alone. In addition to tools like Executor.org, there are professionals out there who can help make sure you successfully complete the job in a way that both follows the law and maximizes the assets that go to beneficiaries. For example, you may need an accountant to help with filing the estate tax returns or an attorney to help with filing the appropriate paperwork with the probate court. A skilled realtor should be able to better ensure you sell any property for the best price. Remember, in many cases it would be inappropriate for you to complete the executor duties without consulting with multiple professionals, so if you need help, reach out.
- You don’t protect the estate’s assets. Being an executor is not just about distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in a will. You should preserve the value of those assets (as much as you can) throughout the process so that they are in the best shape possible for the beneficiaries. If, for example, the deceased owned a home and a storm damages the roof and causes a leak, you need to make the repair a priority so there’s no further damage to the home or any assets inside. Remember that costs associated with the repairs should be covered by the estate (if funds are available) since protection of assets is an acceptable estate expense.
- You mingle your personal assets with the estate’s assets. It’s simple enough to do: You sell the car of the deceased and it seems easier for you to just get the buyer to write the check to you and you’ll remember to give that money to the beneficiaries when the time comes. Afterall, opening a new bank account in the name of the estate seems like such a hassle, particularly if there aren’t that many things that need to be done financially to close the estate. While this thinking is understandable, failing to properly handle estate money is a big mistake. Mixing your assets with the estate assets can get you in a lot of trouble with the probate court (and the beneficiaries), so be sure to keep all personal and estate assets (financial or otherwise) separate.
- You take risks with the estate’s financial assets. You’ll want to limit the risk of losing any financial assets held by the deceased. This is not the time to be purchasing risky stocks – or any stocks at all, for that matter. You’ll want to take a very conservative approach, as your job is to protect the assets in the estate, not enhance them. For example, do be cautious in liquidating any IRA accounts, as converting those assets into an IRA-BDA can be a very attractive option for beneficiaries. You’ll likely want to consult a financial adviser to learn the best way to handle financial investments and assets.
At Executor.org, we unfortunately sometimes hear from executors who only reach out after making a significant error in their work to settle an estate. While some mistakes can be corrected, it can be financially and legally costly. Fortunately, the expertise is out there, so make sure to take advantage of it.
Have a question about executorship? Get an answer by sending an email to [email protected].
About the Author: Patrick O'Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The free tools include a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.