The process the court follows to ensure a deceased person's creditors and beneficiaries are accounted for in their estate is called probate. If you have been named as the executor of an estate and are about to get into the probate estate administration process, here are the mistakes you should avoid.
Failing to Locate All Beneficiaries
In some wills, the deceased gives gifts to a specific group. Therefore, the individual names of the beneficiaries aren't included. It is the role of the executor to find all the members of the group. This includes inquiring from family members and reliable sources to ascertain all the beneficiaries.
Failing to make a reasonable effort to track down beneficiaries of gifts will have grave consequences. If a disappointed beneficiary later makes a claim in court with regard to the inheritance, you could be held liable for their loss.
Failing to Keep an Accurate Inventory of Assets
As an executor, you should prepare an accurate inventory of assets that reflects the assets that have been collected and are under your control. You must account for everything and understand how assets will pass to the deceased's beneficiaries.
For example, does the deceased's estate include family heirlooms or jewelry to be passed on? Are there royalties that need to be distributed to beneficiaries? Accounting for all the deceased's assets under your control will prevent inheritance disputes in the future.
Distributing the Deceased's Assets Prematurely
It is unlawful to start distributing the assets of a deceased person's estate before the estate is open. For example, if the will states that a piece of real estate should be given to a specific relative or artwork to a friend, distributing these assets prematurely will be a huge problem.
The will may state that the estate will pay the inheritance taxes, or the one inheriting an asset could be responsible for those taxes. If you distribute the asset before the tax is collected from the heir, the estate cannot recover it later.
Furthermore, creditors are allowed time to file claims against the deceased person's estate. If the estate has insufficient funds because you distributed assets prematurely, you could be held responsible for those debts.
Failing to Retain Counsel
Probate is a complex process, and trying to perform all the tasks on your own can easily lead to costly mistakes. You may think you are saving money by not hiring counsel, but you could be violating your fiduciary duty. Instead of subjecting yourself to personal liability for grievous mistakes, ensure you work with a probate lawyer.
An experienced probate lawyer will ensure the administrative process runs smoothly and is completed promptly. The legal expert will also protect you from making mistakes that will cost you, the beneficiaries, and the estate.
Contact a probate attorney to learn more.