Being asked to serve as the executor of an estate is a major sign of respect. While it can feel wonderful to know that a deceased person, oftentimes a friend or a family member, trusted you to serve in this role, there are some legal concerns you should keep in mind.
Especially if you'll be dealing with a high-value or aggressively contended estate, it may we wise to retain counsel. Here are three reasons why you should consider talking with an estate administration attorney.
It's not enough that an executor will put forward their best effort. Every executor has what's known as a fiduciary duty. This means they're legally obligated to preserve as much of the financial value of an estate as possible.
The fiduciary requirement comes with legal teeth, too. If you fail in this duty, the claimants to the estate have the right to come after you for the losses the estate suffered. A court can order you to pay the difference between the expected value of the estate and what was actually transferred.
An estate administration attorney, however, can help you select appropriate financial vehicles for the job. These are generally low-risk investments like certificates of deposit that provide a tiny financial upside with minimal risk.
Failing to take proper care in the handling of a will or an estate can also lead to legal trouble. Even if you feel like you've properly disposed of the estate according to the word of the deceased, someone who takes objection to the outcome might sue you. Suits can arise from actions like failing to find beneficiaries or giving the items to the wrong individual
It's a good idea to maintain a checklist of the items in the will. Should something prove to be a problem, you'll want to document multiple attempts, made in faith, to handle the task. Any ambiguous or incomplete sections of the will should be clearly noted and brought to the attention of the court. Your record can be made available, too, to interested parties in case they're concerned about your efforts on behalf of the estate.
Seeking personal gain or promoting a particular party's interests is always a formula for bad things for an executor. It's important to document every action you take to demonstrate that you weren't seeking to profit from your work. You should also maintain a journal expressing your thoughts to provide a quick reference if any accusations are made.