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I Was Named the Executor? Now What?

If you are like most people, you may have not seen your parents’ wills. That is, of course, assuming they have wills. Likewise, you may have not asked your siblings, spouse or other loved ones if they would kindly let you inspect theirs either. Death and estate planning are difficult topics for most people to discuss. For one, nobody enjoys talking about their own mortality, much less who will get their assets when they die. Nevertheless, in most cases it is best to have the difficult conversations early and let your loved ones know where you stand. At a minimum, you should tell them where you keep the original will and who you have selected as your executor; or, if you have been selected, how you can access their estate planning documents. If you are selected to serve as an executor, here is a general outline of the types of responsibilities you will have. Ideally, you should always contact an experienced probate attorney who can navigate the difficult process of administering an estate.

What is my role as the executor?

The executor is there to serve as the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. Estates are abstract concepts, similar to a corporation. An estate has a tax identification number, it usually has a bank account, and it can have creditors and debtors. Try to think of an estate as a business, as that makes it easier to conceptualize some of your tasks as the CEO and CFO of that company. Although talking to an experienced attorney is always your best option, you may also wish to familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities of a personal representative. Your job is to make sure the proper forms are filed with the court, to give your attorney all the information and paperwork he or she needs, and to ensure that creditors are paid and the decedent’s debts are collected. As you might imagine, this can be quite a tough job.

Do I have to serve?

Absolutely not. You can always decline your position, in which case the position passes to the next person in line according to the will, provided your loved one named a successor. Most well drafted wills will include at least one additional executor in case you choose not to or cannot serve. If none of the people named wish to serve, it becomes much more complicated, as the court may then appoint a public administrator to manage the matter. This can become quite costly for the estate. So, it is generally best for a named executor to serve, unless there is some overriding reason not to, which your attorney can clarify after discussing your individual case.

What if I make a mistake?

You will most likely perform well as long as you are honest, keep good records, and listen to your attorney. Where executors go wrong is when they are greedy or ignore their attorney’s instructions. If you make a minor but innocent mistake in how you record an estate purchase or expense, you may be asked to explain this to the court, but it can generally be quickly corrected by simply having your attorney document the transaction or by replacing the money.

Ultimately, as an executor you are a fiduciary. This means that you owe certain duties to the beneficiaries. Those may include family members, your siblings, and anyone else who stands to receive something from the estate. You must also file a final tax return for the estate. An experienced Florida attorney at the Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group can work with you to retain accountants and other important professionals to manage. We are prepared to assist you today with any and all of your estate planning needs.

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